Half Lives

Half Lives

by Sara Grant

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316235082
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 07/09/2013
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 775,987
File size: 801 KB
Age Range: 15 - 17 Years

About the Author

Sara Grant was born in a small town in Indiana. She graduated from Indiana University and has a master's degree in creative and life writing from Goldsmiths, University of London. She lives in London with her British husband and is also the author of Dark Parties. Sara's website is www.sara-grant.com.

Read an Excerpt

Half Lives

By Sara Grant

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Copyright © 2013 Sara Grant
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-316-19493-8


If you'd asked me that day whether I could lie, cheat, steal, and kill, I would have said ab-so-lutely not. I've told little white lies to my parents to stay out of trouble. And, sure, I borrowed a few answers off Lola on that one chemistry test. (Who cares that U stands for Uranium or that it's number 92 on the periodic table of the elements?) I shoplifted a Kit Kat when I was seven on a dare. That's not exactly grand larceny, but I'd never kill. Not possible. I'd relocate spiders rather than squash them. (And I hate those beasties!)

But now I've knowingly and willfully committed all those acts on the Richter scale of freaking horrible—from lying to killing. I'm not proud of it. I learned that surviving isn't all it's cracked up to be. If you survive, you've got to live with the guilt, and that's more difficult than looking someone in the eye and pulling the trigger. Trust me. I've done both. Killing takes a twitch of the finger. Absolution takes several lifetimes.

When the final bell rang that last normal day of my life, I found Lola reclining next to our open locker, applying my Candy Corn Crush lip gloss with her pinky. Even in the Friday afternoon stampede, students and teachers steered clear of Lola as if she projected her own force field. With her combat boots and torn fishnets, the whole military-Goth thing she had going on could be kind of intimidating. But she was like a Tootsie Pop—hard on the outside but sweet and weirdly awesome on the inside.

"That bad, huh?" Lola asked the moment she spotted me.

"Bad would be an improvement," I replied, and stuffed my books in our locker.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 equals "dumped by your boyfriend of three and a quarter months via text two weeks before senior prom" and 10 equals "winning a reality TV show and being insta-famous," my day was a big, ginormous 1.

Literally. Yep. Tristan ended our romance with a text:

I wan 2 brk up.

That's what he wrote. Didn't even bother with real words.

In my seventeen years, I'd learned that, no matter how heinous your life is, stay tuned for a Psycho-style surprise before the credits roll. And whatever higher power you worship—God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Zeus, or Lady Gaga—can't save you from the dull, rusty knife.

"So ..." Lola looked me up and down, admiring my standard uniform of smart-ass T-shirt (today's: a smiley face with HAVE A MEDIOCRE DAY), cargo pants, and flip-flops. "You need a diversion. What should we do?"

I draped my messenger bag across my torso, tugging my dreadlocks free from the strap. "Starbucks?"

She shook her head. "Already shotgunned two Red Bulls to get through English."

"Movie? That theater down by that one place is showing Hitchcock—"

She raised her hand to interrupt. "Um, that's one of those black-and-white ones, right?"

I nodded.

She waved the idea away. "That's like playing a board game when you've got a Wii."

"But the man knows freepy."

"Freepy. I like that—freaking creepy." She fished the phone out of her faux military jacket and immediately started tweeting. "You have a gift," she said. Lo and I liked to create what we called "the Ripple"—not as in raspberry or caramel fudge—but a ripple of words.

Someone had been the first to utter whatever or crupid. My dad still periodically, and completely cringeworthily, said dude. It was Lola's and my mission to take our linguistic influence global. We'd come close with borriffic—terrifically boring. I'd proclaimed Mr. Kramer's third lecture on WWII borriffic. A day later I heard some freshman using it in the cafeteria, and three weeks after that one of Lola's friends' friends used the word on Facebook.

"I give it two days before Teek and Jackson are using it as if it were one of Webster's own." Lola's fingers feverishly tapped her phone.

"Monument?" I suggested after she'd tweeted our newest Ripple. I loved D.C.'s morbid décor. I could barely flip my dreads without swatting some monument to dead people. We sometimes picked a D.C. landmark and saw how many tourists' snaps we could sneak into, or we would pretend to be tour guides and feed visitors false info: Many people don't know this, but the Washington Monument is named for President George Washington's father and shaped like his unnaturally pointy head.

"Nah. Too much effort." Lola looped her arm through mine and practically dragged me off school premises. "Mall," she decided. Our mecca. "You need a little retail therapy."

Once we'd outpaced all the other Capital Academy refugees, I confessed, "Tristan dumped me." Saying it was like reliving the dumpage all over again. He was my first serious boyfriend and what Lola and I called the trifecta of Gs—gorgeous, geek, and giggle. He was equal parts good looks, smarts, and sense of humor, and that was a next-to-impossible combo. I wasn't going to marry him or anything, but I thought we might at least make it to graduation.

She wrapped me in a too-tight hug. "Icie, I'm soooooo sorry."

I wiggled free. "What a ..." I felt the pre-sob throat clench. I wasn't going to lose it. "I mean he's a total ..."

Lola squinted and puckered her lips as if she was thinking, then a wicked smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "Totass."

It took me a second to dissect the word. "Jerzilla."

"Dumboid." She laughed and then glanced at me to make sure it was okay to laugh when my heart had been pulverized like a grande coffee frap hold the whip.

I smiled. "Fridiot."

"Yep, Tristan is the biggest fridiot in D.C."


"The world."



We exploded with laughter. We leaned on each other to steady ourselves. Tears streamed down my cheeks. My sides ached. Our laughter dwindled to sighs. My attitude shifted a smidge. With Lola as my life support, I no longer felt like I was going to die.

As we walked, Lola lit the cigarette she kept stashed in her bra. Even though she turned away to exhale, the cigarette smoke seemed to curl around me. I moved away to find fresh air and wished ditching Tristan's toxicity would be as easy. But his rejection clung to me like smoke. Why did he dump me? Was I so ... so ... But I couldn't find the right combo—ugly and disgusting? Stupid and revolting? I was never getting a date to prom now.

Lola paused and ground her cigarette into the sidewalk. She shifted all her weight onto the ball of her foot and shredded the stub.

"What's up?" I asked.


"Nothing?" I nodded toward the cigarette confetti on the sidewalk.

She started walking. "I don't know if I should tell you."

"What?" I grabbed her arm and forced her to stop. I felt a hiccup of panic.

She wouldn't look at me. "Guess you'll find out sooner or later."

"What?" I asked again. The worst thing was not knowing, right?

"The fridiot already posted your breakup on Facebook with one of those winking smiley faces." She patted herself down, searching for another emergency cig. "Teek saw it and told Will, who told Tawn, who told me."

The gossip Ripple was way more powerful than the word Ripple.

Social death by Facebook. I take it back. Knowledge can suck.

I started walking, stomping really, in the general direction of the Metro. My life at Capital Academy was over. I fished out my phone from my cargo pants pocket. I tapped the FB app. My profile picture of Tristan and me stared back. It was taken on our seventh-and-a-half date. (Our first date only counted as half because he didn't take me to the dance, but we left together.) The picture was snapped after we'd seen a double feature of American Psycho and the original Hitchcock Psycho. He's pretending to stab me in the back with an imaginary knife and I'm mock-screaming in horror. A bit prophetic.

I changed my Facebook status to single and switched my picture to one of Lo and me last summer. We're trying on three-hundred-dollar sunglasses in this snooty boutique, right before the saleslady with the awful orange fake tan kicked us out. I was trying to think of the perfect snarky thing to post about Tristan when Lola caught up to me.

"Listen," she said. "Some things are just not meant to be."

Yeah, but how did you know? What if Tristan and I were meant to be? Maybe there was no such thing as meant to be, only shit happens and you make the best of it.

We stopped at the Metro entrance to consult our phones before we went underground. I scrolled through Twitter. Lola had, like, a thousand followers. #Freepy was already multiplying.

I checked Facebook again. Molly "Ho" Andersen had just "liked" Tristan's breakup post. She was such a ... As my mind strained for the perfect combo-word, my phone buzzed and my dad's photo flashed on the screen. I'd programmed his ringtone to be the screeching noise from the shower scene in Psycho. I ignored it. I needed a proper sulk. I wasn't ready for Dad's platitudes: "Everything happens for a reason" or "See it as an opportunity." I didn't want to "make the best of it" yet.

Before I could put my phone away, those ominous notes from the movie Jaws played over and over. A text from Mum. I didn't need the "suck it up you're a Murray" lecture. "Stiff upper lip." "Brave face." "Chin up." "Keep calm and carry on." All that stoic British shit. I'd been dumped and I was entitled to feel like moldy gum on the bottom of last season's stilettos. I shoved the phone into my cargo pants pocket, double-checking that it wasn't the one with the hole. I'd lost about twenty dollars that way.

The telephonic harassment didn't relent. My pants sounded like a horror movie soundtrack. I dug the phone out and flicked to the text messages. They all said the same thing.


Yeah, we'd come up with that oh-so-difficult-to-decipher code; 911 before any message meant an emergency for real. What family had a secret emergency code? Answer: a family whose mum worked for the federal government and whose dad was a nuclear physicist. We got one of those Barbie-posed, all-purpose holiday cards from the White House, and the president actually signed ours.

Mum and Dad were always getting threats from some activists who were a few crayons short of a sixty-four-pack—if you know what I mean. Mum assured me the threats were no big deal, but we'd still come up with our top secret code.

When I saw the 911 texts, my stomach dropped like it did when I rode Mega Coaster Rama at Flying Flags America. I'd only gotten one 911 from my parents ever, when Dad had his car accident. That message had said:

911 D.C. Mercy Hospital.

"I gotta go," I said to Lola. Suddenly, being dumped by fridiot Tristan didn't matter as much.

Lola paused her texting. "Seriously, Icie?"

"Sorry, Lo," I said with a shrug. "My parents have evoked the code. I'll call you later."

"It's going to be okay," Lola said, hugging me good-bye. "We will either get you another date for prom or you can stay home with me and we'll eat tubes of chocolate-chip cookie dough and watch classic horror movies until we vomit."

"Can I wear my prom dress and killer purple shoes?" I tried to joke. If I could make a joke, then things couldn't be that bad.


"Later!" I called as I waved down a yellow taxi and texted my parents that I was:


By the time the taxi pulled up in front of our three-story brownstone, I'd talked myself down from the ledge of worry my parents' texts had pushed me toward. Everything looked normal. Flames weren't shooting from our bedroom windows. The street was ambulance-and police-free. I relaxed a little. It couldn't be too terrible if the sun was still filtering through the trees that lined our street and flashing on the tinted windows of the BMWs, Jaguars, and Lexuses parked in a neat row. The nannies for the Smith-Wellses and the Pattersons chatted over strollers with sleeping toddlers. Mrs. Neusbaum in wedge heels that matched her helmet of snow-white hair clip-clopped after her pug, Sir Milo Winterbottom.

I stuffed twenty dollars through the taxi's payment slot and told the driver to keep the change. I climbed the steps to my house two at a time. The door swung open before I reached the top, and Mum pushed past me.

"Wait! Stop!" she shouted at the taxi.

Dad was slumped against the banister in the entryway. "Dad, what's going on?" I asked, and stepped inside. He didn't answer.

The backpack my parents bought for my one and only camping trip was resting at his feet. My SAVE THE PLANET, ROCK THE WORLD button was fastened to the front pocket. The last I remembered, my backpack was stuffed under my bed, and my parents adhered to the progressive parents' handbook and never, ever trespassed in my bedroom.

I scanned from my backpack past Dad's wrinkled khakis and polo to his face. His eyes were red and puffy, and his normally carefully brushed hair looked like he'd had a mishap with hair wax and a pack of wildcats.

"Dad?" My pinprick of worry was now a full-on jugular vein gush.

He wouldn't look at me.

"Dad, what is it? What's the matter?" I asked. My legs turned to rubber. I had to steady myself on the hall table, which caused a vase of white roses to wobble and a pile of mail to avalanche to our recently refinished mahogany floor. Neither Dad nor I made a move to stop the cascade of papers. The slick, glossy cover of Mum's Modern Politics mixed uneasily with the dull recycled pages of Dad's Nuclear Energy Digest.

Mum burst in. "Okay, the cab's sorted." She shut the door behind her. "Have you told her, Jack?" She looked from Dad to me and back again, tennis-match style. "No, clearly not."

This was the first time I'd seen my parents in the same room in about a month. Dad was a morning person, so he made me homemade granola with fresh blueberries every day for breakfast—because it was my favorite. Mum was the queen of the night, so she checked my homework after the ten o'clock news with a reward of Ben & Jerry's and whatever film was on the Horror Channel. We used to cross paths at dinner, but for the last few months our daily family time had slipped.

"Icie." Mum paused, and it was like watching the battery drain from a toy robot. Her voice and posture softened. "We need to leave D.C."

Dad handed me my backpack. I pushed it away. "Now?" I asked.

"Yes." She pressed an imaginary wrinkle from her skirt. I noticed the transfer of sweat from her palms to the black silk. "Please give me your phone." She held out her hand.

I protectively covered my cargo pants pocket. "But I need it to—" Mum flashed "Talk to the hand" before I could prioritize why I so desperately needed my iPhone: (1) to update Facebook, (2) to text Lola, (3) to listen to the playlists Lola and I had created, with titles like "Wake Up 'n' Smell the Urine," "Songs to Slit Your Wrists By," and "Make-Out Mix (Virginity Blues)."

The look on her face told me that none of that was important anymore. I handed her my phone. She switched it off and laid it on the hall table. She smoothed a lock of hair that had escaped from the blonde uni-curl she called a bob. "This is serious, Icie. We need to go someplace safe," Mum continued, as if she hadn't just unplugged me from my life.

"What's going on, Mum?" I asked again. "You're scaring me."

"We need to get moving," Mum sort of barked.

"Mum, just because you're British doesn't make you, like, Jasmine Bond." I laughed nervously. My parents didn't.

"Jack, give her the money belt," Mum said, indicating the three-inch-wide beige cloth that lay coiled on the stairs. Dad didn't move. He stood there hugging my backpack. "Bloody hell!" Mum grabbed the belt. "There's ten thousand dollars in here."

Was it ransom? A bribe? I couldn't get my head around what was happening. She lifted my T-shirt and wrapped the money belt around me. I was having a total out-of-body experience. Had I hit my head? Traveled to a parallel universe? Eaten some bad Cheetos?

I stood, arms raised, like a two-year-old letting Mummy dress her. She fastened the belt at my spine. The cloth was cool and stiff. She pulled my shirt down and tugged the hem to straighten my smiley-face iron-on. The bricks of cash cinched my waist like a corset.

"Someone tell me what the hell is going on!" I demanded, and backed away, knocking the hall table again. The white roses toppled off. The vase shattered and water splashed on my cargo pants.

Mum took a deep breath. "You've got to trust us. We need to get out of here."

"We'll get through this, Isis," Dad said, squeezing me and my backpack together.

Excerpted from Half Lives by Sara Grant. Copyright © 2013 Sara Grant. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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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Half Lives 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
chapterxchapter More than 1 year ago
Half Lives by author Sarah Grant was one of those reads that sounded interesting and like it would keep you wondering until the very end. A novel that tells two sides to the end of the world, one taking place during and the other taking place long after? Count me right in! By the time I started reading Half Lives and finished the first chapter I found myself going “whoa that was seriously awesome” and absolutely had to keep on reading. Half Lives is two stories. The first being that of main character Icie/Isis whose parents work for the government. When they send her a text telling her to come home ASAP she has a belt with $10,00 in cash strapped to her body and is sent to the airport, straight to Las Vegas and to a mountain that will keep her safe. Why are her parents doing this? Because they know about a top secret biological weapon that has been released and will eradicate the human race. Icie finds herself on her own, on her way to the mountain with a small band of survivors as they look for the mountain’s bunker in hopes of surviving the end of the world. The second story told in Half Lives takes place decades and decades later, the world is left in ruins and a small cult that follows the teachings of the Great I AM guard the mountain and bunker that Icie was hiding in. This small group of survivors fights off against Terrorists and hope to pass on the Great I AM’s will and find peace and enlightenment. When their leader, the Cheer Captain Beckett, meets a girl named Greta he uncovers the truth about Icie’s journey, who the Great I AM is and what the teachings his cult has been following are really about. What I really liked about Half Lives was getting to see the apocalypse as it unfolds and also gets dystopic and tells us what happens after. I really liked that but did have my worries. What if I didn’t like both casts of characters in both stories? What if I didn’t like one of the main characters as much as I did the other? Or what if I didn’t like both stories equally? Honestly I had nothing to worry about because both stories were equally good and equally fast paced. I was really impressed by the pacing used in Half Lives, it kept me on the edge of my seat and had me very excited to continue reading. The characters in Half Lives were ones that I easily got attached to. I fell in love with Icie and the three survivors she bands together with, at the same time I also really liked Becket, Greta, Harper and Finch (despite him turning out to be cray). Personally I think that the characters used in Icie’s story are ones that will relate more to teen readers and will also make it easier for them to think of the characters are real because they are all very realistic. Plus by the time Icie’s group reaches the bunker there’s so much drama and *spoiler, spoiler, spoiler*. Half Lives stirred up a lot of emotions in me. Throughout the story I would be reading and when the story would reach a part that questioned the character’s humanity or got really dark, I could feel it in my stomach and got so into the story. I cried, I laughed and I got terrified for every single character. By the time the novel reached its conclusion I was cried out, still surprised at the ending and also glad that it tied up almost every single loose end. I would recommend Half Lives to readers who are fans of dystopia, want a read that shows the before/after of the apocalypse and readers who are looking for a story that revolves around survival.
majibookshelf More than 1 year ago
Half Lives was a doozy. It is told from two POVs told at two different time lines, one is set during the 21st century (our time) and the other is several hundred years later. What set the time is a viral attack that hit the world. I wish I could explain more about it but we find out close to nothing about it. Our current time protagonist is Icie, the child of a father working in the federal government and a dad who is a nuclear physicist. They figure out the plan of the viral attack and give their daughter a map, money, and the key to a bunker, which was constructed to house nuclear waste but the project implementation was never passed by the government.  This is when the trouble starts, Icie seems to pick up stray kids her age and put 4 teenagers in an enclosed area for weeks, you know crazy stuff is bound to happen. I was rather excited to find out about the viral attack, its origin, and basically all the conspiracy and corrupt government issues we get with sci-fi/post-apocalyptic novels. Like I mentioned earlier, we are as clueless as Icie, who just lives without reason in the bunker, waiting for when her mother and father will come. However, take it several hundred years later, at the same location, and you find that the mountain that the bunker is in is inhibited by people, mostly teenagers, and children. Many of the children are deformed, and the people follow a higher being their believe is called the great I AM. What's is funny is that all those people are descendants of Icie and follow her way of life as if it is their religion. It was a bit weird, especially in the way they spoke. "Whatever" to them is like saying "Amen", but when you find out how it originated, you will laugh your butt off. Also, they say "Have a mediocre day" as in "Have a nice day" since Icie used to always say that with her best friend. Words like Facebook, Just Sayings (which is a book that contains all of the Great I Am's sayings), twitter guy (who keeps track of everything), as well as many other little acts and habits they have developed. These just made me crack up so much, but it was also frustrating just how blind they are to what is the real world.  I grew very frustrated with the way the plot progressed. I wished their leader found Icie's diary sooner so I would have witnessed them finding out how their entire world was built on lies. I wanted them to venture outside of their mountain and see what happened to the world and what is the state of it. I did not appreciate the romance because it felt a bit rushed and I just felt that the plot lost its way during the later time. I honestly gave this book three stars because I enjoyed the current POV and liked seeing how these teenagers would survive and live with minimum necessities and in a foreign place with no way out. All in all Half Lives was a bit of a disappointment because I didn't know what the author wanted out of it but I did enjoy it enough and it was an interesting sci-fi novel. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It does.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago