Without Tess

Without Tess

4.5 8
by Marcella Pixley
     
 

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Tess and Lizzie are sisters, sisters as close as can be, who share a secret world filled with selkies, flying horses, and a girl who can transform into a wolf in the middle of the night. But when Lizzie is ready to grow up, Tess clings to their fantasies. As Tess sinks deeper and deeper into her delusions, she decides that she can't live in the real world any

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Overview

Tess and Lizzie are sisters, sisters as close as can be, who share a secret world filled with selkies, flying horses, and a girl who can transform into a wolf in the middle of the night. But when Lizzie is ready to grow up, Tess clings to their fantasies. As Tess sinks deeper and deeper into her delusions, she decides that she can't live in the real world any longer and leaves Lizzie and her family forever. Now, years later, Lizzie is in high school and struggling to understand what happened to her sister. With the help of a school psychologist and Tess's battered journal, Lizzie searches for a way to finally let Tess go.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 7–9—Lizzie Cohen, 9, and her sister, Tess, 11, are incredibly close. They live in a world all their own, filled with selkies, magical toads, and horses with beautiful wings. When Lizzie tries to leave this fantastical world in favor of reality, Tess tries hard to keep her there. Her imagination becomes more and more delusional, and she becomes harmful to herself and others. She starves herself, claiming that she is immortal and doesn't need nourishment. Then she makes a decision that leaves Lizzie, five years later, struggling to confront the past through Tess's worn-out Pegasus Journal, full of poetry and disturbing images. With the help of the school psychologist and a childhood friend, Lizzie tries to find a way to let go of her guilt. Alternating between chapters of prose and poetry, the novel gives readers glimpses into the minds of both girls, balancing past and present and slowly revealing the entire story. The setting is a riverside town, and the pivotal events take place at the razor's edge of fall and winter, creating a chill of apprehension. Girls struggling with anorexia may benefit from reading about an issue that hits close to home, and anyone coping with harmful relationships, especially within the family, will relate to this lyrical, heartrending novel.—Kimberly Castle, Stark County District Library, Canton, OH
From the Publisher

Without Tess is a psychological thriller, a book of profound truth. Alternating between past and future, between loss and hope, Lizzie's story will grip you from beginning to end.” —Francisco Stork, author of Marcelo in the Real World

“Following up on themes raised in her well-received first novel, Freak, . . . Marcella Pixley continues to explore the complexities of sibling loyalty.” —The New York Times

“* Pixley's memory play is a difficult, sadly beautiful ode to a complex and heartbreaking issue.” —Publishers Weekly Online, starred review

“* [A] lyrical, heartrending novel.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“Pixley, who skillfully tackled another complicated sisterly relationship in Freak . . . takes a rather provocative step here: she sets up some alluring and imaginative magical conceits that will immediately catch the attention of fantasy readers just as they did Lizzie, and then mercilessly makes their appeal their danger.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“Smooth, well-paced, and contemporary.” —VOYA Online

“Pixley once again plumbs the emotional depths of a tough subject with sensitivity and insight into the complexities of human nature and sibling bonds.” —Kirkus Reviews

Children's Literature - Lisette Baez
The bond between sisters is one that is truly special, sometimes unexplainable. Tess and Lizzie shared that bond especially as young girls as they created a secret, make-believe world filled with all things fantasy. The girls' world included flying horses and people that turned into animals but mostly it had the appeal of escaping, the danger of losing oneself. As the girls grew up, Lizzie was ready to move on and put the make-believe world behind her, but Tess could not loosen her tight grip on fantasy. She began to sink deeper and deeper into the dark corners of her mind and her delusions eventually separated her completely from her family. Lizzie is desperate now as a teenager to find out what happened to Tess and embarks on a sad and emotionally taxing journey. With the help of a school psychologist, Lizzie begins to face and understand the cruelties of mental illness. The compelling plot and the multi-faceted characters really lend itself to the intrigue and sadness of the story. The reader will be torn between tears and smiles as this unconditional bond between two sisters unfolds. Reviewer: Lisette Baez

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429969826
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
10/11/2011
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Lexile:
790L (what's this?)
File size:
275 KB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Without Tess


By Marcella Pixley

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2011 Marcella Pixley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-6982-6



CHAPTER 1

Funeral Lilies


Every Wednesday I bring the battered Pegasus Journal into the high school guidance office. I sit in the rocking chair and lean back so it feels as if the world is holding its breath. I've grown to like this room. I like the painted masks, each one with its own hollow eyes. I like the wooden animals on the bookshelf: the camel, the stork, the wolf raising her face to the moon; but my favorite of all is the wooden horse that hangs from strings above my head. Its mane and tail are made of real hair, and it has red glass mirrors for eyes. It looks into the distance, its dusty head crooked. Tess would have loved this horse. She would have tried to convince me its eyes could cast a spell. I might have believed her when I was a little girl, but now I know better. There's no such thing as magic. I'll never let you go, Lizzie. No matter what happens to me, I'll never ever let you go.

I always come five minutes early. I like to sit in the rocking chair and breathe away everything real. Bad grades and teachers who frown when they see me. Letters sent home in sealed envelopes. All the kids who give me distance like I'm some kind of human plague walking the hallway. I breathe away the silence of Isabella Amodeo, who has pitied me for almost five years and who continues to pity me, no matter how much time goes by. That first week, she delivered casseroles to our doorstep: warm food drowned in melted cheese and tomato sauce, meals Mamma could place on the table without looking. I remember sitting down to dinner, staring at the empty chair.

Of course, there were other kindnesses too. Floral arrangements delivered to the door from our teachers, bouquets of white funeral lilies so pungent they made me cross-eyed. I smelled nothing but funeral lilies that whole first month. Even outside the house — even when I was able to get away from the parade of relatives and neighbors, people who would look at me with sad eyes and then turn away — the smell of funeral lilies clung to my skin, my hair, my clothes. The scent was so strong I still smell it sometimes when I think about how it felt to be without her for the first time. So that now, sadness still smells like funeral lilies to me, and strangely, so does the feeling of loneliness, and so does the feeling of relief, because those were all things that I had never known before Tess left me just Lizzie all alone.

Dr. Kaplan walks into the office at 12:35 and sits at his desk. "Okay, kiddo," he says, "just give me a second." He finds my file and mumble-reads his notes from our last session. Then he settles back into his chair and waits for me to open Tess's battered Pegasus Journal.

The whole thing with the Pegasus Journal was his idea. At our very first session, I told him about the journal filled with sketches and poems. I told him how I rescued it from her coffin the day of her funeral and carried it home in the inside pocket of my coat, how I couldn't let them bury it, because I knew that these pages contained the real story of Tess and me and what happened when things changed. Even though I might not want to remember, burying the Pegasus Journal along with Tess would have been criminal. On that first Wednesday, he told me we had no choice. We had to use the Pegasus Journal to help me come to terms with what happened.

"Ready when you are," Kaplan says, smiling.

It's time to start. I open the Pegasus Journal. The pages are fragile, dog-eared, smudged with fingerprints and shadows. Here is a girl with worms in her hand. Here is an army of toads. Here is the profile of a drowning horse. But it is Tess's face that gazes back at me. Tess's eyes and wild red hair. I catch my breath. I remember the day she drew this. How she rubbed in shadows that made the cheek seem three-dimensional, the ears perfectly lobed like funeral lilies. How she used the back of her thumb to bring out the light in each eye so it looked as though the horse was gazing off into the distance somewhere, at a world unraveling, its tangled mane whipping around its face like the tangled hair of a wild girl who doesn't even care enough to comb a hand through the snarls. The horse on the page opens its mouth. It is my sister's voice coming up through the years. I'll never let you go, Lizzie. No matter what happens to me, I'll never ever let you go.

CHAPTER 2

    Flying Horses

    Milk-white steeds with flashing hooves
    Canter 'cross the boathouse roofs
    Through the tides that flash with foam
    Merlin bring my horses home.

    Feathered wings and golden tail
    Flashing eyes and silken sail
    Canter brave through crashing waves
    Far above the drowned men's graves.


Flying Horses

"What kind of wings do you want?"

Tess raises one eyebrow and waits for me to talk. I don't answer right away. She is eleven and I am nine. It is one week before summer vacation. This is a big decision because whatever wings I choose will be on my back for the rest of my life. We are sitting Indian-style beneath our dining room table, surrounded by the familiar legs of Mamma's writing group, the ragtag bunch of grownups who come to our house once a month on a Saturday with their pages and their pens, to drink iced tea, and talk and cry. Here are Mamma's skinny legs with her embroidered sandals. Here are the poet's straight, uncomfortable legs with her high-heeled black boots. Here are the mystery writer's sickly legs covered with scabs and sores. Here are the picture-book writer's old-lady legs, puffy and swollen, with her blue spiderweb veins, and her red potato feet powdered and pushed into loafers.

Tess and I always spend these meetings sitting under the table making plans for our escape. Tess is holding the Pegasus Journal. She has drawn six different sets of wings, each on its own page. Each set of wings costs seventy-five-thousand dollars and fifty-nine cents, but that's okay because Tess is royalty and she keeps real silver coins hidden under her pillow. There are wings made of the following magical substances: water, gumdrops, moonbeams, gold dust, magic feathers, and peanut butter. Only stupid horses choose peanut butter. Peanut butter wings are gooey. They melt in the sun. The stupid horses who choose peanut butter try to fly, but they always fail. They start off just like Merlin taught us — take a running start and then leap up into the sky. Fly fly, high high, up in the sky, up in the sky. But the stupid horses end up falling flat on their faces. Ker-splatt. Talented horses choose moonbeams or feathers brushed with gold dust. Tess tells me I am one of the most promising horses in our class, and I know this must be true because Merlin tells her everything. Tess taps on the Pegasus Journal and looks down her nose at me. She makes a tick tock tick tock noise with her tongue to tell me that time is running out.

"I'll have gold-dust feathers," I tell her finally, finding the right page. "I'm a black horse. My mane and tail are gold and I have a gold streak down my nose." I pet my nose with one finger.

Tess pats my bangs, scratches me behind one ear, and picks up a gold Magic Marker. With one thin hand, she holds my face still. With the other, she draws a line down the bridge of my nose. The Magic Marker feels cool and wet like a tongue.

"Do you have a star or a diamond?"

"A diamond," I tell her, showing her the shape with my fingers. "And I have one gold stocking. On my left front leg. When I trot you can see it flashing and when I canter it's like a golden blur. That's why they call me Sun Dancer."

"Nice to meet you, Sun Dancer." Tess bows her head and I bow back. She colors a gold diamond on my forehead and a gold band around my left wrist. Even though her fingers are skinny-skinny like baby fingers, they are sharp. They dig into my skin and make me want to pull away. Tess puts her elbow down on my arm until I keep it still. "This'll look cool with the gold wings," she assures me. "Merlin thinks you made a good choice. He says he's glad you've come to study with us."

"When will the magic be complete?"

Tess leans forward so she can whisper into my ear. "In about ten minutes," she says. Her breath is too warm on my cheek. The closeness makes me dizzy. "That's when you'll become a Pegasus. I'll get my moonbeam wings a little earlier since I'm older. I'm black with a gray blaze and a gray muzzle. That's why they call me Smoke. I have magical powers. I can see into the future. Plus I can move objects with my mind. Those are powers Merlin taught me. Here. Draw my markings."

Tess closes her eyes and her face gets still and expectant. I take the gray Magic Marker and color a gray stripe down her forehead. Then I color a circle around her nose and mouth. One of the writers says something muffled and the rest of them laugh. There is the sound of chairs shifting, and people shuffling manuscripts. Ice cubes and glasses clinking. "I don't think Mamma's going to like this," I tell her. "She thinks we're playing tic-tac-toe." We look around us at all the grownups' legs. The mystery writer leans forward and scratches a sore underneath her knee. Then she folds her napkin across her lap and smooths out her skirt with the wrinkled palms of her hands. "I don't want to get in trouble. Mamma doesn't like it when we interrupt the group."

Tess grins. "You still don't understand, do you? They don't need to know everything. Besides" — she brings her face even closer to mine — "we're immortal. We don't need parents. Merlin's in charge of us now. Make my muzzle darker. I think you missed a spot. And make sure my blaze is sort of like a triangle." Tess turns to a new page in the Pegasus Journal. Quick as a flash, she scribble-sketches a horse's head. The mane is blowing in the wind and all the different locks are detailed with lines and shadows so you can really imagine the animal staring off into the distance with its fierce, magical eyes shining. Tess colors in the pupil with the edge of her pencil and leaves a white highlight so it looks like the eye is real. Tess hands over the Pegasus Journal and points at the horse that she wants to be.

"You're so good," I say, sighing, tracing the lines of the face with the edge of my pinkie finger. "I wish I could do that."

Tess shrugs and lifts her chin. "Make me a horse," she commands. I darken my lines. I keep the color inside the circle a solid gray. I trace the contours of her mouth without touching the insides of her lips at all. I work slowly until the job is done. Tess keeps her eyes closed. Then she sways a little. She sticks out her tongue and starts making wet, strangled noises like she's going to throw up.

"What's wrong?" I ask.

"The magic," Tess croaks. "The wings. It's happening. It hurts." She rolls herself into a ball. She moves her shoulder blades up and down, wincing and clutching at herself. I can almost see the moonbeam wings coming up from the surface of her back, pushing through the skin, the long, white bones rising like glaciers from the sea, the moonbeams feathering out, each tiny filament, shining, sparkling, until she has wings, beautiful, new, magnificent wings. Tess hunches her back. Then she uncurls, tosses her neck, and whinnies. She turns from one profile to the next, admiring her brand-new moonbeam wings. They are even more special and more magical than Merlin said they would be.

"They are incredible," I breathe.

"I know they're incredible. I can feel them on my back. Lizzie, I need to fly. You've got to get me out of here. If I stay under this table another minute I'll die." Her eyes fill with tears and she begins to shake like the time she had that high fever and Mamma had to put her in a bathtub filled with ice.

"But if we go out, they'll see you."

"Merlin taught me how to turn us invisible." Tess begins to wave her hands in the air.

I grab her skinny wrists. "I think we should stay here until after they're all done with their meeting. If Mamma sees us, she'll make us wash off the Magic Marker. We'll get in trouble."

Tess looks at me, hurt, like I've betrayed her. "It's not Magic Marker," she insists. "I keep telling you. It's magic paint. It's changed me. I'm a Pegasus now. Look at my wings. There's nothing the grownups can do to change me back. After all of your training, after all of your flying lessons, you've got to believe me."

I look at her. She is my sister. She has Mamma's eyes and Daddy's chin and she has gray Magic Marker all over her face. She doesn't have wings growing out of her back. She just has a skinny spine like she's had since I can remember, and shoulder blades that are too sharp for a girl. I look and look at her but I don't see anything. I blink my eyes.

"Don't you believe me, Lizard?" Her eyes are wide. The familiar nickname tugs on my heart and makes me reach out for her. She twines her fingers into mine and looks into my face like she is looking into a mirror.

"Of course I believe you," I mutter.

Tess exhales. I exhale too.

"Let's go," she whispers.

And then I am pulling her out from under the table. We duck between the mystery writer and the poet and we run like our lives depend on it, past the scraggly writers who are drinking their iced tea and looking at their pages over half spectacles and don't see the two invisible horses galloping in bathing suits through the living room, one black with a golden blaze and a golden stocking, the other the color of smoke, with moonbeam wings extending from her shoulders as if she were an angel. They don't see us leap over the coffee table. We link arms and canter together, one two three, one two three, one two three, lifting our knees in unison, through the green double screen doors and out onto the long, wooden wraparound porch overlooking the pine needle hill and the tidal river that leads to the nearby ocean. We go down the porch stairs to the hill and take a running start, and then just as I leap with her, my own wings come, my beautiful gold-dust feathers extending from my shoulder blades like sunlight spreading out across the horizon, like beautiful beams of light. It doesn't hurt like Tess said it would. It feels like heaven. We are angels. I will never doubt her again. This is what it means to be immortal. Tess winks at me. She tosses her head and whinnies.

* * *

"Don't fly too close to the sun," Tess calls. "You'll burn the tips of your wings. Stay right with me. I'll keep you safe."

I gallop closer, but she bounds away, arching her neck and blowing air through her lips. She paws the air with cupped hands. She does cartwheels and somersaults and figure eights with her arms extended like wings. I'm getting out of breath trying to keep up. The sun beats down on our shoulders. Everything tastes like salt and sweat. The writers have moved outside to the porch. Mamma pours glasses of ice water. One at a time, the writers wander to the railing. They look down the hill at the river. I can hear the cool sound of ice against glass.

"I want a drink," I tell Tess.

"Drink some clouds." Tess stops and scoops pine needles into her hands and brings them to my face. I lower my muzzle and pretend to drink, but pine needles are nothing like fresh ice water, and I'm still thirsty.

Tess pulls me to her side and we link arms. One two three. One two three. One two. One two. We raise our knees like Irish dancers and toss our heads. If I watch Tess's doorknob knees from the corner of my eye, we can trot in time. When you trot, your breath bounces out of your mouth. One two. One two. Knees and breath. Up and down. Huff huff. Huff huff. Our bare feet slam the ground. The sun shines down. We trot and trot until we are both glazed with sweat and mosquitoes are buzzing around our heads. I wish I had a nice long horse's tail to swat them away.

Tess looks at me and grins. "Come on," she says.

"Where?"

"It's time for the splash landing. Then you can drink all you want."

Tess pulls us down the pine needle hill, over rocks and roots, across the cracked road, and down the rocky path to the shore. We trot in single file across the stationary dock, across the wooden ramp, and then onto the floating dock that rises and falls with the tide. We stand on the edge and breathe salt and wind. Mamma and the writers are lost in the distance a thousand miles behind us.

"Do you know what this is, Sun Dancer?" Tess asks me, swinging her arm in a wide arc.

"It's the floating dock," I say, smiling.

"No," Tess tells me, her voice soft and mysterious. "This is a huge, fluffy cumulus cloud over the river." She trickles her hands across invisible lumps and bumps, gathering invisible water and cupping her hands to her mouth to drink. I do the same. This time, when I finish drinking I feel quenched.

"Look down at the river."

I do. The sun winks off the water. The wind makes ripples in the air and our cloud floats on the current. I spread my wings to keep my balance. The water is green and deep and the wind makes us cool. I close my eyes. Everything smells like sun and salt.

Tess begins to sing a spell in her magical language. It sounds a little like Hebrew, a little like Spanish, and a little like Korean. It is the language of winged horses.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Without Tess by Marcella Pixley. Copyright © 2011 Marcella Pixley. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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.

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Meet the Author

Marcella Pixley is a middle school language arts teacher and a writer. Her poetry has been published in various literary journals, and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her first book, Freak, received four starred reviews and was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year. She lives in Westford, Massachusetts, with her husband and two sons.


Marcella Pixley is a middle school language arts teacher and a writer. Her poetry has been published in various literary journals, and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her first book, Freak, received four starred reviews and was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year. She lives in Westford, Massachusetts, with her husband and two sons.

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