Teen Wolf meets Emergency Contact in this sharply observed, hilarious, and heartwarming debut young adult novel about friendship, chronic illness, and . . . werewolves.
Priya worked hard to pursue her premed dreams at Stanford, but the fallout from undiagnosed Lyme disease sends her back to her childhood home in New Jersey during her sophomore year—and leaves her wondering if she’ll ever be able to return to the way things were.
Thankfully she has her online pen pal, Brigid, and the rest of the members of “oof ouch my bones,” a virtual support group that meets on Discord to crack jokes and vent about their own chronic illnesses.
When Brigid suddenly goes offline, Priya does something out of character: she steals the family car and drives to Pennsylvania to check on Brigid. Priya isn’t sure what to expect, but it isn’t the horrifying creature that's shut in the basement.
With Brigid nowhere to be found, Priya begins to puzzle together an impossible but obvious truth: the creature might be a werewolf—and the werewolf might be Brigid. As Brigid's unique condition worsens, their friendship will be deepened and challenged in unexpected ways, forcing them to reckon with their own ideas of what it means to be normal.
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Ticks don’t actually have teeth. I looked it up afterward, scrolling through photos with that same kind of sick fascination of watching someone pop a pimple. They’ve got this horrible ridged capitulum that opens up into three parts like the monster from Stranger Things, sinks into your skin, and holds on just long enough to derail the course of your entire life.
I don’t know what time it is when I wake up. This time last year, I would have known the second I heard my alarm trilling: 7:30 a.m. on a Monday, enough time to hit snooze once, slip out of bed, turn on the coffee pot my roommate and I weren’t allowed to have in our dorm, and get ready to leave for Bio at 8:40. Enough time to sit and drink it, knees to my chest, as she slept, scrolling through my email or my blog. I was a well-oiled machine. I was pre-med at Stanford and I had made it out of New Jersey. I was ready for anything.
It must have happened when I was home for the summer, trudging through the tall grass with my high school friends, cutting across a field to get to town. Or maybe it was down by the Amtrak tracks with the climbing plants as Jadie roped me into “acting” for one of her film projects. I don’t know. I’ll never know. The only thing I know is that when I got back to California last fall, I got sick. Really sick.
I don’t set an alarm anymore. I know I’ve slept too long—my internal clock won’t wake me when it’s supposed to. It’s sluggish now, constantly running low on battery, and so am I.
I take a quick inventory, staring up at the same crack in my ceiling that I’ve stared up at since I was five years old. My head is stuffed with cotton. I feel heavy, like something is pinning me to the mattress. And my joints hurt, a throbbing pain that will only get worse as I move. It feels like a handful of fevers scattered around my body, a dozen hungry black-hole stomachs—my left knuckles, my ankle, my knee, my hips, my wrist.
Sometimes it feels like coals being stoked hotter and hotter until I can’t move. Sometimes it feels like a fist clenched tight, tight, tight, until I think that my bones are going to break. Sometimes it feels like each segment of my body is floating away from the others like Pangea, a strange, electric humming that separates all of my bones.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel like anything at all. Sometimes it just hurts.
Today will be okay, probably. But when the weather’s about to change, I can roll over and feel every point where my bones connect to each other. Last week I landed wrong when I walked down the steps to the car, and my swollen knee remembers this as well as I do.
I hear my door creak open before it’s pulled shut again with a soft click. I don’t make a sound.
“Let me just check if she needs anything,” comes my mom’s voice. She doesn’t know how to whisper, so her version of a hushed tone cuts right through the door. “She hasn’t been to church with us in so long.”
My dad replies in Tamil, mostly. “Let the girl sleep. She needs to rest. You talked with the doctor yourself, didn’t you?”
“And what does he know?” I can see my mom waving her hand. Then, a little louder: “Priya—”
My dad shushes her. “You are shouting—”
“I am not shouting, you are—”
“I’ll stay back in case she needs me. Okay?”
There’s a pause. Then, my dad’s voice again: “She’s going to be just fine.”
My mom’s: “We should be going to church as a family.”
“We will, I promise.”
The door opens again, and I let my eyes close. I hear my mom pad over to my bed, sit on the side. She smooths back my hair and kisses me on the forehead, gentler than she usually is with me. I think about pretending I’m still asleep, but a soft-edged affection tugs at my heart and I pretend, instead, that she’s woken me up.
“How are you feeling?” she asks.
“Pretty good,” I lie. It’s worth it for the grin that makes its way across her face, and she pats me on the cheek.
“Don’t tell your father I woke you up,” she says. “He’ll get mad at me.”
I smile back at her. “Have fun at church.”
“I always put you in the prayer requests,” she says. I know it’s meant to be comforting, but the thought of everyone talking about me and my illness makes me want to stay in the house forever and never show my face in public again.
“Say hello to God for me,” I joke. Her face turns severe.
“Say hello yourself!” she says. “You’re being silly. Okay, go back to sleep. Don’t tell your father.”
I mean to wake up then, to pull open my closet and put on something other than sweatpants. I mean to go downstairs and eat breakfast with my dad, or maybe even flag down my mom and brother and sister, tell them I’m coming to church with them after all. But instead my eyes close, and I’m pulled back under before I even reach over and click the Tumblr app on my phone.