Five strangers. 4,286 miles. One epic adventure.
Hudson, Bree, Elliot, and Sonia have only one thing in common: a girl named Leila. On a mission to see the Northern lights, Leila drives from Louisiana to Alaska, crashing into each of their lives in her absurdly red car.
From prom night disasters to first loves and family weddings, Leila’s cross-country adventure helps each of these four find something that was missing. But no journey is complete without a destination—and for Leila, the end of her trip might just bring her right back to the beginning. Back to the truth she knew all along: that perhaps, the only way to find what you’re looking for is to get a little lost along the way.
“Reminiscent of John Green’s Paper Towns, Alsaid’s debut is a gem among contemporary YA novels.”
—School Library Journal
|Product dimensions:||8.20(w) x 5.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Hudson could hear the car's engine from blocks away. He stepped outside the garage and closed his eyes, listening, picking apart the sounds so that he would know exactly what he'd have to fix before he even popped the hood.
Standing there against the garage, listening to the still-far-off car, Hudson could forget about everything else. About school and girls and his future and whether his friends were actually jackasses or just acting like them. With his eyes closed, Hudson could reduce the world to a single engine and nothing more; a world where he could not only name every little part but knew what it was for, how it worked, how to ix it.
He opened his eyes when he heard the car's brakes chirp as it slowed to turn into the garage. It was an old Plymouth Acclaim, the kind of car you either happily sent off to die or loved with your entire heart and refused to let go of. It had seen better days, its red paint job chipped and faded, its muffler not doing much muffling. He waved the driver forward to where he was standing. He was still identifying the car's problems when the girl killed the engine and climbed out.
He only allowed himself a quick glance at her, knowing as soon as he saw her that she was the kind of girl who could make you think your life was not complete unless she was in it. She was a jumble of contradictions: short but with long legs, fierce green eyes but a kind expression, baby-faced but wise. She was wearing a snug, plain red T-shirt that matched her car. Her hair was down, the black locks reaching just past her chin.
"Afternoon," she said, offering a polite smile.
He replied in kind, trying to adopt the professional tone he used with most customers. He asked her to pop the hood and then walked to the front of the car to release the latch. He meant to bury himself in work right away, but against instinct he stole another glance. How long would the memory of her face haunt him? Days? Weeks? "You having trouble with anything specific?"
"Well, not really," she said, slipping her hands into the back pockets of her shorts, which made her posture change in a way Hudson couldn't help but notice. The quiet world outside the garage noticed the change in her posture, the damp Mississippi air noticed, even the various grease stains spread out on the garage floor noticed. "I just got started on a road trip, and it's making a lot of noise, so I wanted to be sure it's in shape."
Hudson grabbed a clean rag of a nearby shelf and checked the oil and the transmission luid. He liked working in relative silence, nothing but the subtle sound of the cooling engine, his hands and tools on the machine. Something about this girl, though, made him chatty. "Where you goin'?"
"North," she said. 'All the way north."
"You from around here?" He suddenly felt self-conscious about his drawl, the hitch in his vowels, the overall lackluster quality of his presence.
He chuckled as he ran his hands around the engine, checking for cracks in belts. "Born and raised." He nodded to himself as he made a mental checklist of what he'd need to fix. "Mind if I ask where you're from, then?"
"I don't," she said. He thought he heard her smile, but when he looked up, she was ambling around the garage, curiously examining the shelves and their bric-a-brac. "I was born in Texas. A little town not unlike this one."
"So, if you're from Texas, and you're going north, what brings you to Vicksburg? Not exactly on your way."
"I needed my car ixed, and I heard you were the best around," she said. He looked up again, and she grinned. Weeks, he thought to himself. I'll be thinking about that face for weeks. She walked around the car and joined him in front of the hood. "So, what do you think? Will she make the trip?"
"When I'm through with her, yeah. I'll flush out all the fluids, make sure your spark plugs are in shape. This belt might need replacing, but I think we've got the parts. I'll check your brakes, too, 'cause they didn't sound great on the way in. But nothing to worry about."
For a moment, Hudson forgot about the girl, thinking instead about getting his hands dirty, splotched by grease that he'd smear across his work pants, adding another battle scar to proudly display. "You like this, don't you?"
Hudson glanced up to find her standing so close that he could smell her scent fighting through the oil fumes in the garage. "Like what?"
"My face," she said, then smacked him playfully on the arm. "This, silly. Fixing cars. I can tell."
He shrugged, the kind of gesture one makes when there's no choice but to love something. "If you want, you can come inside while I write up an estimate."
"No need," she said. "Do whatever needs to be done. I trust you."
"Um, this could take a few hours," he said. "We've got coffee and a TV inside. Some magazines, too. There's also a pretty good burger joint down the road ." He trailed off, realizing that he didn't want her to leave. Usually, no matter what distractions there were around, he could shut everything out and delve into his work. It was the same with studying at the library; friends could come by to tease him, cute girls from his class could take a seat and try to engage in conversation, but Hudson never let himself be swayed.
But there was something about this girl that made him want to hear her opinions on everything, hear about her day, tell her about his own.
"Or, you could stay here and keep me company," Hudson said.
She stepped away from Hudson, but instead of leaving the garage, she grabbed a folding chair that was leaning against a wall and propped it open. "If you don't mind," she said.
Hudson breathed a sigh of relief. How quickly his luck had turned. He'd come home from school to a long, empty afternoon of worrying about tomorrow's interview with the dean of admissions, with nothing but the occasional oil change to distract him. But now he had a full workload ahead of him and the company of a beautiful girl. He wiped his hands on the rag he'd grabbed earlier, and he got to work, racking his mind for something to say.
He could see her out of the corner of his eye, sitting quietly, moving just enough to look around the garage. Her gaze occasionally landed on Hudson, and his heart litted in response. "Did you know that certain mechanic schools have operating rooms with viewing areas, like you'd have in med school? Just like surgeons in training, there's only so much you can learn in a classroom. The only diference is that you don't have to get sterilized." Hudson peeked around the hood to catch her expression. The girl turned to him, an eyebrow arched, containing a smile by biting her bottom lip.
"I hear some students even faint the first time they see a car getting worked on. They just can't handle the gore," he quipped.
"Well, sure. All that oilwho can blame them?" She smiled and shook her head at him. "Dork."
He smiled back, then pulled her car up onto the lift so he could change the oil and the transmission luid. What had driven him to make such a silly comment, he couldn't say, nor could he explain why it had felt good when she called him a dork.
"Have you ever been to Mississippi before?" he asked, once the car was up.
"Can't say that I have."
"How long are you planning on staying?"
"I'm not sure, actually. I don't really have an itinerary I'm sticking to. I might just be passing through."
Hudson set up the funnel under the oil pan's drain plug, listening for the familiar glug of the heavy liquid pouring down to the disposal bins beside the lift. He searched for something else to say, feeling an urge to confide. "Well, if you want my opinion, you shouldn't leave until you've really seen the state. There's a lot of treasures around."
"Treasures? Of the buried variety?"
"Sure," Hudson said. "Just, metaphorically buried." He glanced at her, ready to catch her rolling her eyes or in some other way dismissing the comment. He'd never actually spoken the thought aloud to anyone, mostly because he expected people to think he was crazy to ind Vicksburg special. his girl looked curious, though, waiting for him to go on.
"Not necessarily buried, just hidden behind everyday life. Behind all the fast-food chains and boredom. People who like Vicksburg usually just like what Vicksburg isn't instead of all the things it is." Hudson plugged the oil drain and started lushing out the old transmission luid, hoping he wasn't babbling.
"It's not a big city, it's not polluted, it's not dangerous, it's not unfamiliar." God, he could feel himself starting to talk faster. "All of which are true, and good, sure. But it's not what Vicksburg really is, you know? That's the same thing as saying, 'I like you because you're not a murderer.' hat's a very good quality for a person to have, but it doesn't really tell you much about them."
Well done, Hudson thought to himself. Keep on talking about murderers; that's the perfect way to make a good impression. While the transmission luid cleared out, he examined the tread on the tires, which seemed to be in decent shape, and tried to steer his little speech away from felonies.
"I'm sorry, I usually don't go on like this. I guess you're just easy to talk to," Hudson said.
By some miracle, the girl was smiling at him. "Don't be sorry. That was a solid rant."
He grabbed a rag from his pocket and wiped his hands on it. "hanks. Most people aren't so interested in this stuf."
" Well, lucky for you, I can appreciate a good rant."
She gave him a smile and then turned to look out the garage, her eyes narrowed by the glare of the sun. Hudson wondered if he'd ever been so captivated by watching someone stare out into the distance. Even with the pretty girls he'd halfheartedly pursued, Kate and Suzanne and Ella, Hudson couldn't remember being so unable to look away.
"So, what are some of these hidden treasures?" she asked.
He walked around the car as if he was checking on something.
"Um," he said, impressed that she was taking the conversation in stride. "I'm drawing a blank. But you know what I mean, don't you? How sometimes you feel like you're the only person in the world who is seeing something?" he girl laughed, rich and warm. "I'll tell you one: It's quiet here," she said. She wiped at the thin film of sweat that had gathered on her forehead, using the moisture to comb back a couple of loose strands of hair. He could hear his dad around the back, testing the engine on the semi that had come in a few hours earlier. Hudson returned his attention to the car, tomorrow's interview being pushed to the back of his mind.
"It reminds me of where I grew up," the girl said. Hudson heard her chair scrape on the loor as she scooted it back and walked in his direction. He expected her to stand next to him, but she settled in somewhere behind him, out of sight. "At the elementary school that I went to, there was this soccer ield. It seems like nothing but an unkempt ield of grass if you drive by it." Hudson had to stop himself from turning around to watch her lips move as she spoke. "But every kid in Fredericksburg knows about the anthills. There's two of them, one at each end of the ield. One's full of black ants and the other red. Every summer the soccer ield gets overrun by this ant-on-ant war. I'm not sure if they're territorial or they just happen to feed off each other, but it's an incredible sight. All these little black and red things attacking each other, like watching thousands of checkers games being played from very far away. And it's this little Fredericksburg treasure, just for us."
Hudson caught himself smiling at the engine instead of replacing the spark plugs. "That's great," he said, the words feeling too flat. The girl hadn't just let him ramble on; she'd known exactly what he meant. No one, not even Hudson's dad, had ever understood him so perfectly. There was a pause that Hudson didn't know how to ill. He thought about asking her why the car was registered to an address in Louisiana instead of Texas, but it didn't seem like the right time. He was thankful when the engine of the semi his dad had been working on started, and the truck began to maneuver its way out of the garage in a cacophonous series of back-up beeping and gear shifts.
When the truck had rumbled away down the street, Hudson turned around to look at the girl, but, feeling self-conscious under her gaze, he pretended to search for something on the shelves beside her. "When I'm done with your car, want to go on a treasure hunt?"
Hudson wasn't sure where the question had come from, but he was glad he hadn't paused to think about it, hadn't given himself time to shy away from saying it out loud.
The question seemed to catch the girl off guard. "You want to show me around?" She glanced down at her feet, bare except for the red outline of her lip-lops.
"If you're not busy, I mean."
She seemed wary, which felt like an entirely reasonable thing for her to be. Hudson couldn't believe he'd asked a stranger to go on a treasure hunt with him.
"Okay, sure," she managed to say right before Hudson heard his dad enter the garage and call his name.
"Excuse me just one second," he said to the girl, raising an apologetic hand as he sidestepped her. He resisted the urge to put a hand on her as he slid by so close, just a light touch on her lower back, on her shoulder, and joined his dad at the garage door.
"Hey, Pop," Hudson said, putting his hands on his hips, mimicking his dad's stance.
"Good day at school?"
"Yup. Nothing special. I did another mock interview with the counselor during lunch. Did pretty well, I think. That's about it."
His dad nodded a few times, then motioned toward the car. "What are you working on here?"
"General tune-up," Hudson replied. "Filters, luids, spark plugs. A new V-belt."
"I can inish up for you. You should get some rest for tomorrow."
"I'm almost done," Hudson said, already sensing the discomfort he felt any time he had to ask his dad about something Hudson knew his dad wouldn't approve of. "here's just ." He looked back to see whether the girl was within earshot. "Well, this girl, she wants me to show her around town." He waited to see if his dad would run a hand through his graying hair, his telltale sign of disapproval. "I promise I'll be back for dinner," Hudson added.
His dad glanced at his old Timex. "One hour," he said, adding a reminder about how early Hudson would have to get up tomorrow to drive the fifty miles to the University of Mississippi campus in Jackson. " We don't want you to be too tired."
"I won't be, I promise," he said, tiny fantasies of the next hour with the girl already looding his head. The back of their hands grazing against each othernot entirely by accidentas they walked; her leg resting against his as they sat somewhere together, getting to know each other. Already racking his mind for places where he could take her, Hudson thanked his dad with a quick hug and then went back to the front of the car. The girl had a hand resting on the hood, staring vaguely at the engine block. "I just have a couple more things to do, and then we can get going," he said.
"Great." Her lips spread into a warm, genuine smile, and she held out her hand. "By the way, I'm Leila."
He wiped his hand off on his work pants and said his name as he shook her hand. Months, he thought to himself, his fingers practically buzzing at the touch of her skin. I'll be thinking about her for months.