Fifteen-year-old con artist Jo Chastain takes on her biggest heist yet—impersonating a missing girl. Life on the streets of Boston these past few years hasn’t been easy, and she hopes to cash in on a little safety, some security. She finds her opportunity with the Lovecrafts, a wealthy family tied to the unsolved disappearance of Vivienne Weir, who vanished when she was nine.
When Jo takes on Vivi’s identity and stages the girl’s miraculous return, the Lovecrafts welcome her with open arms. They give her everything she could want: love, money, and proximity to their intoxicating and unpredictable daughter, Temple. But nothing is as it seems in the Lovecraft household—and some secrets refuse to stay buried. When hidden crimes come to the surface and lines of deception begin to blur, Jo must choose to either hold on to an illusion of safety or escape the danger around her before it’s too late. In Her Skin is Kim Savage at her most suspenseful yet.
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
PART I VIVI
I was seven the first time Momma taught me how to be someone else.
Sitting cross-legged on the street holding a coffee can for change, I'd listen as she'd tell me to remember how in a past life, I was blind. Straightaway, my eyes would blur, and sure as rain that can would be stuffed with bills by the end of the day. Momma said I had a thousand experiences to tap, because I'd passed through this world many times before. It was just a case of remembering.
Momma taught me other things. Like how flipping the pillow helps you sleep cool when the electricity gets turned off. How pretending every visit to a soup kitchen is your first gets you an extra roll. How saying a thing three times makes it so. How Happy Meals from the trash always contain perfectly good fries. How the only safe people are women with babies. How if something bad ever happened to her, I should run as far away from Immokalee as I could.
So I did.
Looking back, I guess I was still in shock from Momma getting killed, though her boyfriends beating her was as regular as the sun rising. I wasn't quite right in my head. On the bus from Florida, the only seat left was next to me. When a girl close to my age, about fourteen, took it, she put so much space between us you'd think I was day-old fish. She was clean around the fingernails where I wasn't, and had a neat little suitcase that someone had packed for her, and hardware on her teeth that meant someone with money cared enough to fix them. She told the driver loud that she was headed back to her family in Boston. A momma and a daddy, and a sister so close in age they were called twins. The driver said he'd be sure to watch over her, be her family till he got her back there safe.
If I was feeling like myself, I would have taught that girl not to scoot away from me. Regular Jolene Chastain would have reached over and pinched that girl's milk-thigh hard as she could. But I was in shock from seeing Momma the way a girl should never see her momma. So I went to a different place. I leaned back and pretended I was that girl, that her dimpled bare knees and the suitcase on the busfloor were mine, and that I was going back home to my momma, daddy, and a sister besides. It was a pretty thought. I started to think maybe it was a sign, me seeing that girl, and that my destiny in this life was to have that family.
Maybe if I hadn't seen that girl, heard her plans and started imagining they were mine, I wouldn't have had such a hard time on the street this last year. Living in Tent City is the closest I've come to having family, but Tent City is not my home. Here in the Boston Public Library I see lots of families, real ones that keep you clean and clothed and won't steal your shoes if you leave them outside your tent at night. So it's time to move on, and to that end, as they say, I have decided to mug you and become you.
You haven't noticed me watching. Here, in the library, I look like any other girl our age, even though the children's librarian with one brown tooth knows I'm homeless, performing my daily self-directed study: our private joke. A lot of us come here — the boy with the baby arm, the mutterer, the junkie in her stained hoodie — but I look the youngest. We're not afraid of getting tossed because we know the librarian is an easy mark, like most people who work with children. The teachers, the shelter counselors, the parole officers: their fatal flaw is that they only want to trust and be trusted.
But back to you. Your earring sparkles under the lights every time you brush your hair behind your ear. Earrings are hard — there will be screams, blood — but I'll come from behind, a quick yank on both ears at the same time: gone. Your earrings will be gone, and I'll be gone, and you'll never see me coming, you're so lost in that copy of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson propped beside your silver laptop in your tiny carrel, and you keep smelling the spine, honey hair sweeping over, nose to the page. You have a pink mark where your knee folds and I can tell you wish you could live inside that carrel like I already do, walls blocking out everything not in that book.
For the record, I would like to be a book nerd. I pretend to be, among these books, but I could never read them all. In Immokalee, I'd steal books from the Books for Africa bin at the dump: little-kid Golden Books with hard spines; cheesy, shiny-covered mysteries; classics with USED stickers on them from college bookstores. Sometimes I'd find poetry books, coffee rings on the covers. Like you, poetry is my favorite, because poems are like magic spells, and Momma taught me that words set in certain ways bring luck. I know we're connected, though anyone looking at us would say you are the un-me — a shiny girl who's never felt her mother's boyfriend brush up against her, never devoured a dirty lollipop dropped by a kid in the park, never slept in a bus terminal with a knife under her thigh for protection — you are me, just like me. So I wait until you go to the bathroom (with your computer, but not your wallet that fell off your lap the third time you crossed your overlong legs in that pleated skirt). I scan the room for Brown Tooth, and when I'm sure it's clear, I snag my score.
To become you, I need your social security number and a birthday. All your wallet contains is one black credit card that reads Henry Lovecraft and a school ID. I tuck the credit card in my sock and lean into the carrel, cupping your ID in my hands, which stink like something bad inside me is seeping out. I try to stay clean. It's easy not to look like a street kid if you're halfway clean, but the soap dispenser in the girls' room has been empty for days.
TEMPLE LOVECRAFT, the ID reads.
"Temple Lovecraft," I mouth.
You frown in the picture. Badass, with your chin tipped up. You love Emily Dickinson but you hate school. Why do you hate school? Because you go to a la-di-da all-girls school in the city when you'd rather be — where? You come here every day. You get off on poetry. You're coddled, fed. Yet you're empty. It's rare I can't figure out another person's wants and needs. It's how I live. You are worthyof study. But are you worthy of stealing? I flip the ID over. Trapped under plastic, your cheek can't feel me drag my thumb over it slowly.
"Fifteen minutes until closing," Brown Tooth shouts. She doesn't aim this toward Baby Arm, or Muttermouth, or Hoodie, just me, because she worries about me. Wants me warned before I get turned out onto the street for the night. I lean back in my chair and nod to Brown Tooth. To speak would encourage Brown Tooth, and I have ten minutes left to mine the Interwebs for your address, where I will paw through your trash for helpful digits. I've got five more minutes to write the note I will leave in my carrel, tacked with gum to the inside of the green lampshade for Wolf to find. He'll look for me here, after I leave him asleep in our tent tonight, headed for my new life as Temple Lovecraft.
Don't think about Wolf. Same way you don't think about Momma.
Wolf's better off without you. Better off without you. Better off.
Saying a thing three times makes it so.
I rush across the hall to a computer station and type Temple Lovecraft. I have to be quick, because they'll shut down the servers soon, and I'd like to drop this wallet back under your chair before you return from your visit to the girls' room.
It's you! The daughter of Henry and Clarissa Lovecraft of Boston's Back Bay in a tasteful dress standing next to your catalog parents at an event called Charity Begins at Home, where lots of other kids and their rich parents are in The Boston Globe's People and Places section. And Dad is the owner of Lovecraft Construction, the name on the crane that rises against the twinkly Boston skyline that Wolf and me see from our tent flap every night. In one panting article after another, you're named a United States Presidential Scholar and a National Merit Scholar. You won the National French Contest, the Hamilton Award, and the World Scholar's Cup, which has nothing to do with soccer. Not that you aren't sporty. You rank first on the national girls' varsity fencing team. You're musical, too: first cello in the Boston Youth Conservatory and, when you were younger, you were a child opera singer featured on America's Got Talent until "vocal nodules ended a promising career." To keep up with all this stuff, you told a reporter you pull all-nighters to study "on a regular basis." The reporter ends her article by telling us "Pinned to her bedroom wall is a quotation from Oliver Cromwell: 'He who stops being better, stops being good.'"
You dazzle me, Temple Lovecraft. But I still need your address. I type Lovecraft alongside Back Bay apartment and ... what's this?
NINE-YEAR-OLD GOES MISSING FROM PROMINENT LOCAL DEVELOPER'S HOME
By Stephanie Ebbert | BOSTON GLOBE MAY 23, 2010
Boston — A nine-year-old girl has gone missing from a Back Bay apartment as her playmate's parents sat dining several feet away.
Vivienne Weir, the daughter of Travis and Marie Weir, was last seen in the brownstone town house owned by Boston developer Henry Lovecraft and his wife, Clarissa. The Lovecrafts were seated in the outdoor section of Restaurant Chloe, which is attached to their home on Commonwealth Avenue, where they say they left Weir and their daughter alone watching a television show around seven p.m.
Abductions with parents in proximity are rare but not unheard of, making the case reminiscent of the 2007disappearance of four-year-old Madeleine McCann, the British girl who vanished from her hotel room at a resort in Portugal while her parents dined fifty yards away.
Below the article is a photo of a girl taken from the waist up. The back of her head nestles against the chest of a woman who is cropped out, except for her chin, arms that cross the girl in a hug, and dark curls that spill onto the girl's shoulder. The girl's own hair is the color of butter, and she has big square teeth. Her eyes make happy half-moons, like someone she loved said "Smile!" and she did, because she had reasons to. I settle on the woman's arms. They hug the girl so hard, the front of her bathing suit puckers.
My breath burns.
The want I feel for those phantom arms could shatter the screen. Make it pop, sizzle, and die. Make the shelves shake and the books tumble down. The want's like with the girl on the bus, but it wasn't useful then, and it's not useful right now.
Stealing Temple Lovecraft's identity will get me money. It will get me off the street. But it won't get me those arms.
I type Vivienne Weir. The next story reads fast.
PLANE CRASH OFF NANTUCKET KILLS BOSTON COUPLE
By Julie Dalton | BOSTON GLOBE July 2, 2011
Nantucket, Massachusetts — Fog is believed to be the cause of a small plane crash off the coast of Nantucket Friday evening. The passengers, Travis and Marie Weir of Boston, are presumed dead. The Weirs are the parents of nine-year-old Vivienne Weir, who went missing in May 2010.
I did not see that coming.
Which is rare.
I tab back to the photo of Vivienne in the sun. The Weirs are dead and they were vain. Instead of giving the newspaper a useful photo of their daughter, they gave the newspaper a pretty one, one that showed them on some fancy vacation, tanned and happy. My hand curls around my neck, dirty hair brushing my knuckles — hair that might have been lighter once. Vivienne's smile is sweet and her cheeks are round, but teeth rot and faces drop with misery. Behind the basic pretty that care affords Vivienne is plain, and plain can morph into anything.
The loudspeaker booms: "The library will close in five minutes."
When dead, vain parents plunge into the sea, they leave behind loving relatives to care for their child. Loving relatives who might not look for that mole, this scar, that overlapping tooth.
"Please bring any items to be checked out to the circulation desk."
Wallet! I scramble off my seat and run back to the carrels. Yours is empty, the pull-chain on the banker's lamp swinging, your chair pushed far beneath the desk. Temple Lovecraft is slippery. Temple Lovecraft is gone. But what if Vivienne Weir was back?
I am Vivienne Weir. I am Vivienne Weir. I am Vivienne. Three times makes it so.
* * *
The back rooms of Precinct 1440 smell of burnt coffee and desperation. It is loud and disorganized enough that someone left a picture of an age-progressed Vivienne Weir tacked right on the wall.
An expression leaves a mark on your face if you repeat it enough. The forensic artist knows this, because in the picture on the right, sixteen-year-old Vivienne Weir has teeny wrinkles beside the bridge of her nose. In the actual photo of nine-year-old Vivienne Weir on the left — the last one taken before she disappeared, the same one in the newspaper — her face is in the act of making those exact lines. I shake my hair around my face (people in shock do this) and lean forward, practicing that exploding smile over and over again.
The wrinkled lap of a skirt appears inches from my nose. I lose Vivienne's smile and raise my chin slowly.
"Here's your Coke," the police social worker says, slipping back into her chair across from me. "Now, can you tell us anything else?"
I ignore the sweaty Coke, look her full in the face, and say for the third time, "My name is Vivienne."
Police social workers like Ginny have terrible jobs. They aren't real shrinks and they aren't cops and they get dragged out of bed in the middle of the night to work with what the cops don't want to work with. I met one the time Momma and me got caught in a sting. Her name was Reva and she sipped the same Styrofoam cup of tea for hours and her breath smelled like nail polish remover and she wanted to "reach" me the same way Ginny wants to reach me now. But I don't need to be reached, I need to be off the streets and nestled in with a brand-new family, and Ginny's going to help me whether she knows it or not.
Ginny is today's mark.
I tuck my mouth and eye the half-eaten doughnut sitting between us, bleeding jelly. Vivienne wouldn't have gnawed at it the way I did, even if she was semi-starved. She'd take baby bites, because a jelly doughnut was considered a sometimes-treat to her instead of enough sugar and fat to live off for three days.
"No matter what you say, nobody will be upset with you. We need anything you can remember about your abductor," Ginny says, pinching her forehead between thumb and forefinger. "For your own safety."
She's getting tired but she won't give up, this Ginny, because Ginny is good at her job. It's the only thing in her life she is good at. I need to be her win. Two cops drag in an old hooker by her sleeves. She's screaming about being profiled even though she is very clearly a hooker, and her voice is on the same wavelength as Momma's, hoarse from cigarettes and stomach acid. When she cuts her way around us, jerking and yelling, Ginny doesn't blink, but I do, because I hear Momma's voice, smell her Pall Malls and cherry Tums.
The hooker's voice is a sign. It's Momma telling me this plan is a good one.
Ginny ignores the hooker. "Consider the other girls he could abduct," she presses. "These kinds of criminals don't quit until they get caught."
Actually, Ginny, these kinds of criminals get caught all the time, and then they get sprung, and then they take out getting caught on their girlfriends. Sometimes, they kill them.
"I told you. I don't remember anything."
Ginny rises and I follow her into a conference room with buzzy fluorescent lights, because Vivienne would follow an adult. Ginny settles into a new seat in the new room. I expect the suspicious detective named Curley who is assigned my case to take her place, to play Bad Cop, because that's the only reason they bring you to a separate room. It's like pushing a reset button. Only Ginny didn't get the memo and launches in one more time.
"Seven years held by the same man. That's a long time not to remember anything about him."
Ginny's thinking I have Stockholm syndrome and I'm thinking I have Can't-Make-It-Up-Fast-Enough syndrome and people like Ginny and the librarian and Reva are all the same. When Ginny goes home at night to her sad cats in her sad condo, she feels her job rewards her, though she probably reuses tea bags and drives an eleven-year-old Corolla with a suction-cupped GPS and charges groceries on her credit card. I don't feel bad for her, but I do need to move things along, and you'd think she'd be getting antsy since that network TV show calling her name starts ninety minutes from now.
I exhale slowly.
"The last thing I remember is someone pressing a smelly cloth over my nose and mouth. I woke up in a shed. And I stayed there. For a long time. I don't know how long. The man fed me. Food you get from drive-throughs and gas stations. He hit me. A lot. I escaped through a rotted plank that I carved away at with a nail, every day. The next thing I remember, I'm here, on the steps of the police station." I let my chin fall in dramatic silence.
Excerpted from "In Her Skin"
Copyright © 2018 Kim Savage.
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.
Table of Contents
PART I. Vivi,
PART II. Temple,
PART III. Jo,
Also by Kim Savage,
About the Author,