In this stunning debut novel, two very different characters—a black boy who loses his home in Hurricane Katrina and a white boy in Vermont who loses his best friend in a tragic accident—come together to find healing.
A hurricane, a tragic death, two boys, one marble. How they intertwine is at the heart of this beautiful, poignant book. When ten-year-old Zavion loses his home in Hurricane Katrina, he and his father are forced to flee to Baton Rouge. And when Henry, a ten-year-old boy in northern Vermont, tragically loses his best friend, Wayne, he flees to ravaged New Orleans to help with hurricane relief efforts—and to search for a marble that was in the pocket of a pair of jeans donated to the Red Cross.
Rich with imagery and crackling with hope, this is the unforgettable story of how lives connect in unexpected, even magical, ways.
“In Smith’s poetic hands, this poignant story barrels across the pages and into the reader’s heart, reminding us that magic can arise from the deepest tragedy.” —Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor Award winner and two-time National Book Award Finalist
About the Author
Tamara Ellis Smith earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Richmond, Vermont, with her family. This is her first novel. Visit her on the Web at tamaraellissmith.com.
Read an Excerpt
The wind wrapped itself around the two-by-fours that held Zavion’s house straight and tall. The wind pushed and moaned just beneath the drywall. Papa had said they needed to get to the attic, to the highest point in the house. But the attic didn’t seem high enough. The wind snuck through the walls. First blowing up and then pounding. Then sideways. Pound. Then down. Pound. Then down again with a piercing squeal. Zavion didn’t know where he would feel it, or where he would hear it next. His teeth chattered. He squeezedhis eyes shut, but that didn’t stop the wind and that didn’t stop his body from shaking so hard he thought his heart might shake right out of his chest. Zavion closed his eyes and pictured Grandmother Mountain. He imagined climbing to its top. A real mountain would rise above this wind and Zavion would be safe. * * * “Zavion!” Papa called through the wind. He sounded far away, but he was only downstairs. “Papa!” “I’m coming up!” Zavion’s eyes darted around the room. Nothing was where it should be. Papa’s rolls of canvas caught and tore on nails protruding from the walls. They flapped in the wind like shredded flags. Zavion crawled over to the window and held on to the sill. Hepeeked outside. It was morning, but it seemed as if the wind had blown the hours forward into night. The dark sky poured rain on Zavion’s street. Only it wasn’t a street anymore. It was a river. The wind came again and Zavion’s hands shook as he gripped the wooden sill. He pressed his chin against his hands to still them, but then his chin shook too. Outside lay an enormous oak tree split in half. A work boot, jammed between two dangling branches. A lamp, sucked in and out of the water. A piece of the roof had broken off his neighbors’ house and sped down the river. Someone clung to the roof. He strainedhis eyes to see who it was and— Was it? Yes. His neighbor’s daughter. Zavion took care of her sometimes. It was so easy to make her laugh. The wind gusted. She slipped on the wet roof. Zavion closed his eyes. When he opened them again, a man was pulling the little girl out of the water. The attic was definitely not high enough. It was not the top of a mountain. A mountain would rise above this. This was the end of the world. Zavion had lost all control—for only the second time ever—and this was the end of the world. Zavion’s fingers dug into the wood on the sill. He tried to calm himself. He remembered the bench outside his school where he sat to tie his sneakers before he ran home every after-noon after cross-country practice. His bed neatly made with his pillowsquared and his book tucked into the top right corner. His peanut butter and honey sandwiches wrapped in wax -paper and lined up in the refrigerator. “Sweet Jesus!” Papa stood, soaking wet, at the top of the attic stairs. “The first floor. It’s flooded. Sweet Jesus. I couldn’t save anything.” “What about your paintings?” asked Zavion. “All my murals. All my paintings. They’re gone.” Papa dropped an armful of cereal boxes and two cartons of juice onto the floor. “This was all I could get.” “What about the second floor?” “I don’t know. Everything is shaking—” “What about my room? Mama’s mural?” “Oh, Zavion, I just don’t know—” “I’ll get the survival kit,” said Zavion. He’d made it himself, put it in the downstairs hall closet. He’d check on his mural when he went to get it. “There are water moccasins down there, Zav. Snakes swimming in our kitchen.” “What?” “You’re not going downstairs.” Papa stood like a fence in front of the stairway, but his eyes moved frantically around the room. “We have to leave.” Zavion pulled ruined canvases over to the window, and he and Papa waved them like flags, trying to get the attention of the helicopter flying overhead. But it kept on going. The wind gusted and flung Zavion to the attic floor. “The walls are breaking,” Papa said. “We have to get out of here.” The wind found a path that it liked. It was a violin bow then, squealing back and forth across the two-by-fours. Back and forth, back and forth. Screaming. It splintered the walls of the attic and set itself free. But the wind stayed inside -Zavion. Thescreaming wind filled him. Stayed twisted around the bones in his body. Zavion pulled himself up. He and Papa waved the white flags again, and this time, when a helicopter flew overhead, it shone its lights on them. But then it just kept on going. It kept on going. Chapter 2 HENRY Henry’s legs ached to run, his breath and heart pounded in his ears. To run on the mountain, behind Wayne’s house, in their small town in northern Vermont, half a continent away from the hurricane in Louisiana. Henry wanted to run on the mountain withBrae at his heels and Wayne by his side. Like the very last time. “Brae’s the starting line,” said Henry, pointing to the large black and white dog sitting at his feet. “I taught him how to lie completely straight. Watch.” Henry raised his arm. Then he flattened his hand as he lowered it, and Brae followed all the waydown to the ground. Henry extended his hands in opposite directions, and Brae stretched out his front and back legs until his head and tail were the only parts of him rising above the dirt. “That was awesome,” said Wayne. “Will you show me how to make him do that?” Henry’s outstretched arms shook a little, he was so proud. He tucked them back against his sides. “Maybe later,” said Henry. “C’mon, let’s race before the sun comes up.” “It’s too dark,” said Wayne. “No it’s not.” “My pack is too heavy.” “C’mon!” Henry pulled on Wayne’s t‑shirt. “Brae’s not gonna lie there forever.” Brae lifted his head at the mention of his name and looked Henry right in the eyes. “Brae wants you to do it—” Henry flicked his finger in Wayne’sdirection, and Brae turned his gaze to Wayne. “Okay, okay,” Wayne laughed. “How can I say no to the wonder-dog?” The boys stood side by side behind Brae, each of them with one foot extended forward, just shy of touching the dog’s muddy fur. The trail was flat for a few yards on the other side of the dog. Henry could see that far. And then there was nothing. Justthe dark. Probably a steep descent. But just like Henry couldn’t see the sun but could feel it, he could feel the mountain too. He and Wayne and Brae belonged there. “On your mark. Get set. Go!” yelled Henry. And they were off. The boys jumped over Brae and began to run. * * * But he’d never do that again. He’d never run on the mountain again. Not with Wayne. It wasn’t going to happen. Ever. Again. Because here he was, in front of Wayne’s casket. Henry’s legs twitched. His breath and heart too. Henry imagined he would twitch and twitch and twitch and explode. A loud bang, and bits of his body would tear off and land all over the church. A hand in an organ pipe. A leg on a pew. His nose on the pulpit,right on the pages of the reverend’s open Bible. “Henry.” Mom’s voice came through the downpour of body parts. It sounded so far away, but she was right by his side. Henry didn’t answer. “You can touch him if you want to,” Mom whispered. Henry’s arm was outstretched. His hand hovered over the casket. He yanked it back. He didn’t want to touch Wayne, he didn’t want to look at Wayne, he didn’t want to be in this church on this day staring at Wayne, dead.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The lives of two ten-year-old boys, one in Louisiana and one in Vermont, are swept up and thrown together in a tale of dealing with and healing from loss. Zavion and his father lose everything in Hurricane Katrina, including their home and Zavion’s cherished mural of his late mother. Henry loses his best friend after an overnight trek onto their favorite mountain. Both boys don’t know how to cope with their tragic losses, but because of a pair of pants and a “magic” marble, Henry and Zavion’s paths cross and together they learn how to navigate the path from pain to healing. A touching and heart-warming story about loss and friendship, and rebuilding.