The curious flight patterns of crows lead a teen computer programmer down a path of mystery and romance.
Gin trusts logic a little too much. She even designs programs to decide what to eat and how to spend her time. All that changes when she's paired with a new transfer student, Felix, on a computer modeling assignment to explain certain anomalies in the behavior of crows.
Speaking of anomalies, why is Gin so disappointed that Felix isn't a match for her in the dating app she’s designing with local gamers?
As she enters Felix's world and digs further into the data behind crow behavior, Gin uncovers a terrible secret. And the wrong decision could equal disaster squared...
|Product dimensions:||7.90(w) x 5.00(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office analyzing data on wool apparel. She blogs about writing and science at susancunninghambooks.com.
Read an Excerpt
Gin saw the white square box as soon as she walked in the kitchen. Pizza. Again.
She should calculate the limit on how much pizza one teenager could eat in a year. She wouldn't be surprised if, this year, she hit it.
Her dad turned the box slightly, aligning it with the table's edge. "Is pizza okay?" He winced. "I know it's not what Mom would do, but ..."
"It's perfect." Gin took a large bite. Assuming a teenager could eat nine slices in the course of a day, then rounding that to ten and accounting for a few pizza-free days each month, it may be possible to hit 3,000 pieces in a year. "And I love pizza. Who doesn't?"
Her dad relaxed, placing two pepperoni slices on his paper plate. "I know this year will be hard, but it's a great opportunity for your mom."
It was a great opportunity for Gin's mom, who was finally getting her nurse practitioners' license while still working nights at the hospital. And though her dad wasn't the most focused parent, Gin didn't want to make things harder for him.
"I'll be busy with school and my internship." She dumped a packet of cheese and a packet of crushed red pepper on her pizza and took another bite. "I have the modeling class with Professor Sandlin — that's going to take lots of time. Plus, I am a senior."
Her dad chewed slowly, methodically, then clapped his hands together. "That's right. School! And the first day is tomorrow."
Gin stopped mid-bite. "You remembered." Her dad was known for inventing programs like Streamliner, which senators swore by and celebrities tweeted about. He wasn't known for remembering whether his daughter had to be picked up at math team practice or needed to eat breakfast or was starting her senior year at high school.
He pulled his phone from his pocket, sheepish. "Mom had me program in all the big days. Chloe's breaks are in there, too. Anyway, can I help? Do you need school supplies? I have paper, markers, pens ..."
"Thanks, Dad. But I'm actually all set."
Einstein leapt up on the table and meowed. Gin pulled a long string of cheese and held it out to him so he could lick away with his scratchy tongue.
"If you want, we could make an app to catalog your inventory of school supplies. It could automatically order what's needed before you run out." Her dad's pizza was poised in mid-air. With his free hand, he pulled at his straight, dark hair, which was just like Gin's hair, but shorter. "It'd only take a few minutes."
"Sure, that'd be nice." Considering that her main school supply was her laptop, an app wasn't necessary. But more often than not, her dad's ideas ended up being better than Gin could imagine. That was the power of computer programs. And this year, she was counting on computer programs to make up for everything else.CHAPTER 2
Freshly polished floors gleamed in the fluorescent lights. High-school students filled the halls, laughing and talking. And Gin stood at her locker, thinking.
She was already nervous about her main class of the day — Computer Simulations with Sasha Sandlin — but that wasn't until sixth period. She'd just have to distract herself until then.
Her phone buzzed — her mom must've woken up after her night shift. Thinking of you, honey — have a great first day. Sorry I missed you last night, but we'll get something good for dinner to celebrate. xoxo mom Before Gin could write back, there was a waft of perfume. "Supermodel" by Victoria's Secret.
"Happy first day of the ending of everything." Hannah leaned against the metal locker and crossed her arms as she surveyed the crowded hallway. She wore combat boots and a short plaid skirt and her blonde hair was twisted up into a series of buns. "First question of the day: do you finally feel like a senior?"
"Sure." Gin kept her locker open, creating a buffer from the river of students. "If it means you feel ready to be done."
"Or like you're ready to party. Which is exactly how I feel."
"As long as you know it's not the weekend yet. How's your schedule?" Gin grabbed her copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare for English.
"Hard. Even worse, there's no boyfriend in sight. Not that I'm looking." Hannah sighed as her eyes flitted up and down the halls.
"You're always looking."
Hannah stood up straighter, face serious. "Not this year. This year is all about not looking. Because life is about so much more than having a boyfriend. Like, you know, school and family and eating three square meals a day — or is it four?"
"Five for you." A box of chocolate-dipped granola bars was already tucked in Gin's locker, in preparation for Hannah's emergency snack requests.
"And, also, finding you a boyfriend."
Gin shook her head. "You don't have to worry about that. Maybe that was on the list before, but my main goal for this year is to do well enough in school to —"
"I know, I know. Get into Harvard."
"Anyway, I've got Love Fractal." Gin double-checked her bag — pen and notebook, laptop, two textbooks.
"That's right. Your very own love prediction program. Better than Match, eHarmony, and Zoosk combined, but geared to the often-ignored high school student. And capable of finding both of us decent guys, right?"
"That's the plan."
"Then I'll keep not looking for a boyfriend." Hannah leaned over and glanced in the mirror stuck on Gin's locker door. She pouted, then smiled, finally ending with a serious expression. "I've got to get to class. Differential equations. Which should be vaguely fun. See you at lunch?"
Hannah left and Gin checked her bag once more, then pushed her locker closed with a satisfying click.
She was texting her mom as she walked down the hall, looking up in time to veer back and avoid running right into someone. She saw his t-shirt first — a sun-bleached red — and his wooden bead necklace, the type that everyone had back in middle school. Finally, her eyes met his.
He must've been new — Gin didn't recognize him, and he definitely wasn't a freshman. She stared at him for half a second, long enough for her to notice that his eyes were a bright hazel and his shaggy hair a gold-brown, as though he spent days outside. And long enough for her to feel her heart rate rise, sudden and fast.
"Sorry about that," she said. Before he could reply, she walked away.
She breathed in, trying to knead down the warmth in her stomach. He had smiled at her, easy and relaxed, and it had seemed like he was going to say something. But her reaction to seeing him — merely seeing him, not even knowing a single thing about him — had thrown her.
The last thing she needed was a repeat of last year. When she'd spent hours — days, really — thinking about Liam Cook. Liam Cook had been one year older than Gin, had had one class with her, and had barely noticed her. And it hadn't been for her lack of trying: she used to waste half of morning break stalling at her locker so she could pass him in the hall on the way to third period. At the end of the school year, mere months before he had to leave for college, she had worked up the courage to give him a fake questionnaire for a fake report she was "writing" about student interests, just to have a reason to talk with him. In one of his answers, he used the word "apocryphal."
None of it had mattered. He never even learned Gin's name. It shouldn't have been shocking: guys never noticed Gin. But since Gin agreed completely with Albert Einstein — or whoever had technically said it — that insanity was doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results, she had decided that this year, she would stay focused on what mattered.
A locker clanged, and Gin tightened her grip on her shoulder bag. As she rounded the corner, she glanced back once. The boy, unsurprisingly, hadn't given her a second glance.
"What's for lunch?" Hannah threw her paper bag down on the table and popped open a soda, her purple nails bright against the red can.
"The usual." Since Gin's lunch was more or less hard coded into HungerStriker, Hannah shouldn't even have to ask.
For your 11:30 a.m. school lunch, your best choice for optimizing nutrition and taste is to have a peanut butter sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a granola bar. Or, you could just buy pizza.
Gin rarely bought pizza. And the way this year was going, she'd be having enough of it at home. She should probably rework the model's logic: add more variation to lunch to account for the likelihood of pizza at every dinner.
Hannah looked in her bag and scrunched up her nose. "Well, I have leftover cauliflower enchiladas. Thanks, Mom. You know, we should go out. Off campus."
"Can't. Every dollar I have is for college. And there are no more open lunches."
"Doesn't bother them." Hannah pointed to three senior girls leaving through the side doors.
"They won't get caught. And if you get caught —"
"Don't remind me. I know." Hannah set her head on the table, which smelled like old rags and French fries, and Gin fought the urge to push her back up. Hannah had had a rough end to the summer after being dumped by Pete, her boyfriend of four months. Pete was also the reason Hannah had ditched school (and been caught) several times at the end of junior year.
Gin slid her granola bar across the table. "Here, have this."
Hannah took a bite, head still on the table. "We haven't even gone to all of our classes, and I'm tired of it. How many more days until summer?"
Hannah lifted her head and narrowed her eyes. "I should know better than to ask you a rhetorical question that actually has an answer." She took another bite of the bar and looked harder at Gin. "So, did your model pick out that outfit?"
Outfitter had, in fact, chosen Gin's clothes. She mentally scanned through the inputs again:
Occasion: First day of senior year Weather: High of 80, sunny and humid Previous outfits: NA
Recommended outfit: Gray sleeveless blouse, cropped dark jeans, off-white Converse low-tops
Gin was the first to admit she needed help with clothing: ninth and tenth grades had felt like one long morning of coming down to breakfast only to have her older sister, Chloe, send her back up to her room to change. After all, "Chloe Hartford's little sister couldn't be caught dead looking like a Lands' End model."
But then Chloe went to college, where she was much more interested in doubling down on hurricanes and PBRs at Sigma Ki parties than helping her younger sister choose outfits. Which meant Gin was on her own. And it seemed silly to waste time agonizing over minor decisions like what to wear. Nobel-prize winning scientists and Fortune 500 CEOs all knew the benefits of avoiding decision fatigue. But instead of limiting her wardrobe to a set of black turtlenecks and blue jeans, Gin had written Outfitter before junior year. She'd been successfully using it ever since.
"It's a good outfit." Gin finished her sandwich and moved on to her grapes. "I have a whole series of assumptions to prove it."
"Totally good outfit." Hannah shrugged, as though the outfit were anything but good. "A little plain, maybe. I could help you out sometime, if the model needs a break?"
"Models don't need breaks." Gin glanced down at her gray blouse. With her pale skin and straight hair, maybe it was a bit boring. "Anyway, it frees up my brain for the important stuff."
"Right. Since everything in high school is so important. Like ...," she glanced around the cafeteria, "the fact that Trevor McDaniel's fly is down?"
"Anyway, I bet your model couldn't predict the intriguing new guy. Now that I see him, I get the talk."
Gin followed Hannah's gaze and wasn't surprised to see the boy from the hall. "On straight probabilities, I'd guess he's a player. Or at least a jerk."
"Maybe." Hannah said, tapping her fingers on her can of soda. "Or maybe not ... Look."
The new boy was carrying his tray with one hand and eating an apple with the other. He sat down in the first open seat, which happened to be at a table with sophomore math team members. They stared, open-mouthed. He introduced himself, then leaned back, stretching his legs out a mile in front of him, and took another bite of his apple. Gin saw that his lips, which were slightly thin, were incredibly expressive.
"Hello? You still there?"
Gin blinked hard. "What? Yeah, sorry. He just —"
Hannah raised her eyebrows.
"He reminded me of someone. That's all."
"Whatever. You know you think he's cute. You could enter it in Love Fraction, right? Maybe you're a match."
"I could, if Love Fractal were ready, which it isn't. Anyway, it'd never match me with him."
"Well, it probably doesn't matter. He looks untouchable." Hannah cocked her head to the side, still watching him. "Or maybe not. Tell you what, by the end of the day, I'll have all the details."
Hannah wasn't joking. She could find out everything that anyone knew about him. Which was comforting. Once Gin was armed with the knowledge of who he really was, she could get her autonomic nervous system back under control.
The bell rang, and the cafeteria erupted in motion. Students trashed plates with half-eaten soft pretzels and pizza crusts then filed out to their next classes.
"One more class until computer modeling 101, right?" Hannah squeezed Gin's shoulder. "Good luck. Though, you've never needed luck."
Hannah took off down the hall, and as Gin started upstairs, she paused. The new boy was headed for the parking lot. He looked around, then pushed the heavy door open to the muggy afternoon.
Gin watched for a moment. And for some reason, one she never could've predicted with any of her models, she followed.
When she stepped outside, it was so bright that she had to squint. The doors clicked closed behind her. Sweat started to form on her brow and above her lip, and she took a deep breath of the hot air. It smelled like tar and mown grass. Trying not to be too obvious, she scanned the parking lot.
There were rows of cars, gleaming in the sun. A few students milling around behind the dumpsters. Further away, students ran on the track.
No sign of him.
The practical thing to do was to go back inside. After all, it was the first day of senior year. And Gin had her most important class ever coming up. She had better things to do than stand in a parking lot. But as Gin turned towards the door, already thinking through her route to her next class, she saw a flash of red.
There, standing near the chain link fence at the edge of the parking lot, was the boy. He was still and focused, facing away from Gin, his back arched slightly. And he was staring up into a tree.
It was strange. Like he was watching something. But the tree was nothing special, just a broad, green-leafed maple.
Gin couldn't help following his gaze. Up into the tree. Through the thick leaves, glossy in the noon sun. Along the old, bent branches.
And that's when she saw them. Perched on a lower branch and nearly hidden in all the green, were two black crows. They were looking down, heads tilted, bodies still. Unafraid.
It was almost like the crows knew him. Even stranger, his mouth was moving. Like he was talking to them.
And suddenly, in a flash of black, the crows flew down and perched on his shoulders.
The boy reached into his pocket, pulling out a cracker. He split it in two and gave a piece to each bird. The crows ate nimbly, their dark feathers shimmering in the sun. They boy looked at each crow in turn, and gave a slight upward push of his hands, and the crows flew back up to the tree.
There was a rush of cool air, and the doors opened. Two girls walked outside, and Gin's face turned red as though she'd been caught doing something wrong. She grabbed the handle of the slowly closing door and started inside.
But she managed one look back, in time to see the boy turn towards school, the crows watching from the tree.
It was odd, no doubt. The birds couldn't be wild — wild birds would never do that. But two pet crows that hung out behind the school didn't seem much more probable.
Gin glanced at the time — three minutes until the next bell — and hurried to her class. She didn't want to be late, especially on the first day. Likely, there was a logical explanation for the crows. After all, there always was.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Crow Flight"
Copyright © 2019 Susan Cunningham.
Excerpted by permission of Amberjack Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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