It all started with the accident. The one that caused Sophie’s dad to walk out of her life. The one that left Sophie’s older sister, Meredith, barely able to walk at all.
With nothing but pain in her past, all Sophie wants is to plan for the future—keep the family business running, get accepted to veterinary school, and protect her mom and sister from another disaster. But when a hurricane forms off the coast of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and heads right toward their island, Sophie realizes nature is one thing she can’t control.
After she gets separated from her family during the evacuation, Sophie finds herself trapped on the island with the last person she’d have chosen—the reckless and wild Finn Sanders, who broke her heart freshman year. As they struggle to find safety, Sophie learns that Finn has suffered his own heartbreak; but instead of playing it safe, Finn’s become the kind of guy who goes surfing in the eye of the hurricane. He may be the perfect person to remind Sophie how to embrace life again, but only if their newfound friendship can survive the storm.
Praise for Mc Call Hoyle’s debut novel, The Thing with Feathers:
“Beautiful, touching, and bursting with hope.”
Pintip Dunn, award-winning and New York Times bestselling author
“Heartfelt and affecting. Hoyle tells a familiar story, but does so in a voice that is rarely heard, and that makes all the difference.”
Leah Thomas, William C. Morris Award finalist and author of Because You’ll Never Meet Me and Nowhere Near You
“The inspiring story of one girl’s struggle not to be defined by her illness, The Thing with Feathers soars as it explores what it means to live—and love—without fear.”
Kathryn Holmes, author of How It Feels to Fly
“A refreshing, quality debut—meaningfully woven and beautifully engaging, from the first page to the last.”
YA Books Central (5 stars)
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
About the Author
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So many worlds, so much to do, so little done, such things to be.
ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON
Once upon a time, I believed in fairy tales. Not anymore. If Prince Charmings and happily-ever-afters were real, I'd have a godmother and a fancy dress. Instead, I've got a pitchfork and a pile of horse manure.
Don't get me wrong. I'm thankful for what I have. I'm thankful for the rumble of the incoming tide in the distance. I'm thankful to live on the barrier islands of North Carolina, which might be as close to heaven as anyone on earth will ever get. But I'm also realistic. I overslept this morning and have a tight schedule and five more stalls to clean before school. The smallest complication can knock my entire day out of whack, and when that happens, it affects the horses and what's left of my family. That's why I'm sprinting behind the bouncy wheelbarrow like I'm competing in some kind of American Ninja manure challenge.
"You okay, Mere?" I call over my shoulder as I dump the wheelbarrow full of dirty wood shavings on the manure pile.
"Yes," she answers from inside the barn. Her voice sounds the same as it always has. It's about the only thing in our lives that's still the same, though. This time last year, Meredith was applying to Ivy League colleges, helping me with the barn, and dancing her heart out. Since the accident, she's content binge watching Full House episodes and sitting alone in her room. Whether or not she believes it, she needs me. Mom needs me too.
And I will not complain. Ever.
Pushing my shoulders back, I drop the pitchfork into the empty wheelbarrow and march back up the little hill to the barn. Jack, the old sorrel gelding in the first stall, whinnies when I reach the concrete pad in front of the double doors. I need to keep moving. Any minute now Mere will have had enough. She'll be too hot or too tired and need to head back to the house. But I can't resist the old guy. He's been part of this family longer than I have.
Leaving the wheelbarrow in the middle of the aisle, I head to his stall. His ears perk up as I pull two carrots from the back pocket of my faded jeans. For just a second, his whiskered muzzle tickles my palm, and I forget the chores I need to finish before school. But not for long. When I glance out the opening at the back of his stall, the morning sun reflects off the dunes. It's going to be brutally hot in another hour. With a sigh, I give Jack a quick scratch under his forelock and return to the wheelbarrow.
I peek in at Mere each time I pass the tack room. She sits in a straight-back chair in front of a row of saddles and bridles. Her hands lie motionless in her lap as she stares at the blank wall in front of her. When I finish the fifth stall, I stand the wheelbarrow beside the pile of wood shavings at the back of the barn, then hang the pitchfork on the wall. Brushing my hands on my jeans, I head to Mere in the tack room and run through my mental checklist of assignments due today at school — an illustrated timeline for US History, annotations for English, and a translated paragraph for Spanish.
When my boots hit the hardwood floor, Mere blinks but doesn't move. "You okay?" I ask.
I reach for her blonde braid to give it a gentle tug, but she slouches lower in her chair. I let my hand fall back to my side. Her thick hair reminds me of Dad's. She got his movie star good looks, complete with square white teeth and defined cheekbones. I, on the other hand, inherited more of Mom's girl-next-door vibe — pretty on a good day, but not startlingly so like Mere.
"Who colored that?" She points to a page torn from a coloring book that's pinned to the corkboard on the wall above the saddles.
"You did, with one of the tourist kids last year. Remember?" I shouldn't have said the remember part. She's sensitive about being forgetful.
Shaking my head, I try not to stare at the colorful picture. A little over a year ago, Mere colored every speck of the princess's skin neon green and her long hair violet. Pinned up beside the princess is a coloring page of a castle. I colored that one with the same little girl.
It had been raining that day, and Mere and I were supposed to entertain the kids of the family waiting to ride horses on the beach. The girl had painted the sky above the castle rosy pink. I'd colored the individual stones a bland gray and had never once gone outside the lines.
"I don't remember," Mere says, closing her eyes and resting her head against the back of the chair.
It's best just to let it go, so I don't say anything. I reach for her Pop-Tarts wrapper. "Let's pick up, okay?"
Mere nods and brushes a few crumbs from the table at her side to the floor. I double-check the latch on the feed cabinet before we head out. We can't afford a repeat of the mutant-mouse infiltration we experienced a few months ago — not with Mere's physical and occupational therapy bills stacking up on the kitchen counter. As I turn back to Mere, a cat brushes my leg and meows.
"Oh, Jim —" He stares up at me with pitiful eyes, balancing on his three good legs. His fourth leg hangs awkwardly above the floor. I doubt we'll ever figure out what took his paw. He waves the knobby leg at me when I don't move, clearly hoping I'll acknowledge his cuteness and whip out the cat treats.
Meow. "Come on, sweet boy." I lift the lightweight cat into the crook of one arm and scratch him under his orange chin. Mere finally gets up and walks over to nuzzle her cheek against Jim's. When he purrs, his whole body vibrates. He reaches toward Mere with his nub of an arm, and she and I both giggle.
I set him on the counter, then grab an empty bowl and the plastic tub of cat food from the overhead cabinet. When the first bit clinks the bottom of the metal bowl, he digs in.
"Okay, Mere, let's get you back to the house." I squeeze her hand and lead her toward the sandy hill that separates our house from the barn.
As we climb the steps to our cottage on stilts, I'm careful to position myself behind her in case she misses a step. She holds on to the stair rail, carefully planting one foot and then the other on each step. It's hard to believe this is the same girl who literally pirouetted and plié-ed her way through life, that all that muscle coordination and grace could be ripped away in an instant.
I sigh as the sun rises off to the east over the Atlantic. Swirls of pink and orange mingle with the occasional wispy cloud, kissing the gray-blue water where they meet on the horizon. The brushstrokes of color take my breath away. They're almost beautiful enough to make me believe in fairy tales again.
I wipe a bead of sweat from my forehead as I reach for the doorknob. Despite the colors whirling in the sky and the grumble of the distant surf, the air has been oddly still the last couple of days. There is no rustling of sea oats today, not even a hint of a breeze. And it's hot. And humid — unnaturally so, more like July than October.
"That was quick," Mom says as we enter the kitchen. She turns down the volume on the weather radio she's been listening to 24/7 since a tropical depression formed out in the Atlantic three days ago. As the screen door bangs shut behind us, I realize a wave of bacon-y goodness fills the kitchen.
"I used my super manure powers." I swoosh my arms back and forth, ninja style.
A faint smile lights her face as she stands perfectly still, her metal tongs hovering above the frying pan. Her small frame and light-brown ponytail are identical to mine. In fact, people used to confuse us for sisters. But now her skin has lost its healthy and youthful glow. My chest tightens at the sight of the furrows in her forehead, deep enough to grip a pencil.
"You're working too hard, Sophie. I wish we could afford to hire someone."
If Dad hadn't left, she wouldn't have to worry about me. Before the accident, Mom ran the business side of things — answered the phone, paid the pills, advertised on social media, even dealt with finicky customers looking to purchase once-in-a-lifetime memories for themselves and their children. With Dad gone, the place was going downhill — fast. I might be a manure master, even a veterinary technician in a pinch, but I wasn't that great with hammers or handiwork. Last year, we had tourists lined up months in advance. Now, people could show up unannounced and pretty much be guaranteed a ride.
When the grease in the pan pops, Mom and I both jump.
"I told you it's not a big deal. I've got it." Mere and I wash our hands at the sink, then I hand Mere a pillow from the nearby couch as I guide her toward the breakfast table. She grips it against her chest. Somehow squeezing an object against her core improves Mere's balance — something to do with centering or activating one side of her frontal lobe. Plus I think the velvety texture soothes her somehow.
Mom has good intentions with the whole let's-find-someone-to-help-around-the-barn project, but she's living in a dream world if she thinks anyone would shovel horse poop and haul hay bales for what we could afford to pay anytime in the near future.
"Someone moved into the cottage near the dunes," she says as she flips a piece of bacon.
"Mmm hmmm." I grab three plastic cups and a carton of OJ from the fridge and head back to the table.
Mere smiles when I approach. I unfold the cardboard spout and fill her cup.
"I'm pretty sure it's the same family that used to live there. What was their name?"
My hand jerks. Juice splashes Mere's arm, and she gasps. Mom turns around to see what happened.
"You okay?" she asks.
I scurry toward the sink for a towel. I'm being silly. First, it's probably not the same family. Second, even if it is, it's not a big deal. So what if I had the crush-to-end-all-crushes on Finn Sanders. So what if he said he'd meet me at homecoming and didn't show. It was freshman year. It was a crush. It wasn't like we were together or anything. It wasn't even a real date. But it was still humiliating. Yesenia and a couple of other girls came over to my house ahead of time. Mere did our hair and makeup. They were as excited as I was. Then he didn't show, and I spent the night acting like I didn't care.
Even if it is Finn, he and I have no reason to interact or cross paths now. We became friends in middle school when we were dumped into the morning chess club together; the school had to do something with us since our moms dropped us off so early. Finn and I became obsessed with beating each other and with putting our heads together to beat Mr. Jackson and his Dutch Defense. It was surprisingly fun. But that was years ago. I can't even remember the last time I played chess or thought about Finn.
"I just drew a blank. What was the boy's name? Jeff?" Mom lays the last slice of bacon on a paper plate to drain.
"Finn. His name's Finn." I dab Mere's placemat and arm with the towel while she hums a piece of music she danced to a couple of years ago.
"That's right — Finn. Maybe he'd like to earn a few dollars helping around the barn." She brings the bacon and a plate of blackened toast to the table, and I do my best not to sigh.
"I've got it, Mom. I promise." I try not to sound concerned as I slide into my seat and reach for a piece of toast. I really don't want her asking me why I'm not eating, but suddenly a flock of seagulls is swarming in my belly.
"Something will work out. It has to. You can't keep going like this." She pushes the plate of bacon toward me.
She's the one who can't keep going like this. But instead of arguing with her, I bite into my dry toast and try to swallow my feelings.
"I bet you'll see Finn today. You could ask him about it."
My throat tightens around the single bite of toast as I twist my lips into a smile and check the time on my phone. I have precisely twelve minutes if I'm going to leave on time.
I may not be able to leave home a year early for college like we'd planned. I may not be able to follow my dreams of veterinary medicine. But I can control one thing. I can control whether I talk to Finn Sanders.
And let me assure you, there won't be conversation or anything else going on between us.
My mind is clouded with a doubt.
ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON
I make it to seventh period without any drama and without any run-ins with Finn, so the optimistic part of me, the part I've squashed down recently, starts to believe maybe Mom was wrong about the whole Finn thing. Besides, I love seventh period. It's technically a study hall, but it's the one hour in the day that's completely mine. No chores. Nobody counting on me. It's pretty much my hour to do whatever I want, and I normally spend it in the media center with Yesenia. She and I have been best friends for as long as I can remember. We're perfect together. I'm a good listener. She's a good talker. It's a win-win.
Mrs. Hampson, the librarian, nods as I pass, but her eyes remain locked on the TV mounted above the checkout desk. Even with the sound muted, it's obvious the meteorologist is taking the weather seriously. His face is grim as he points to the kaleidoscope of green, blue, and yellow on the radar map that's starting to resemble a spiral of colorful soft-serve ice cream.
I head to the overstuffed leather chairs near a big wall of windows to wait for Yesenia and check my phone to make sure I don't miss any notifications about my schedule, or Mom's, or Mere's. The view of the dunes out back calms my nerves even though they remind me of Dad. He loved those dunes. Mere and I spent much of our childhood exploring them with him.
"Scout," he'd call to me over the wind, "chart your own course." He loved that I was brave enough to charge up one side of a dune and down the other without him.
As the waves of heat shimmer and bake the sand, I wonder what happened to that gutsy little Sophie. It's like she died in the accident. Or is she still inside me somewhere, like the mountains of sand in the distance that constantly shift and change but never actually blow away? I don't know anymore. Right this minute, though, I'm content to admire the dunes in the distance.
For the first time today, I breathe — really breathe — and open my tattered collection of Alfred, Lord Tennyson poems we're reading for English. Yesenia's familiar footsteps interrupt me on page three. When I look up, she huffs and plops her Army-green bag on the floor beside the chair facing me. Her favorite patch — half Mexican, half American, completely Awesome — dangles from a few loose threads.
"You heard, right?" She leans toward me, her eyes wide. Locks of thick black hair bounce around her face.
I fold down my page and play dumb as my earlier optimism fades. "Heard what?"
"He's back," she hisses, trying to avoid the wrath of Mrs. Hampson. "And he starts classes tomorrow."
"Who's back?" I ask, but the rocks in my stomach tell me I already know.
"Finn Sanders." She pauses, waiting for the news to settle.
"He's supposed to be hot and some kind of super surfer now. And he's in all advanced classes."
I force down the lump in my throat. If he's in all advanced classes, we're going to have almost the same exact schedule. "It's not a big deal — really. He and I never had anything in common."
She lifts a finger and points teasingly at my face. Her brown eyes reflect the sunlight streaming in through the bank of windows. "What about chess?"
I smirk and tilt my head. "Haven't played in months."
She narrows her eyes. "Science fair?"
I swipe at a strand of hair that defiantly refuses to remain braided and cross my arms. "Didn't compete last year."
She switches tactics. "I think it's romantic, like a reunion. You know what I always say about fate —"
"Yes." Yesenia has a saying for everything, and I adore her. But sometimes her glass-is-always-overflowing outlook gets us both in trouble. In sixth grade, when I still believed in imaginary lands and magical creatures, she talked me into writing a play and spending all our Christmas money on props and costumes. We didn't sell any tickets and had nothing to show for our Christmas cash. In eighth grade, her school spirit ended up getting us sent home for the day to wash our neon green Cindy Lou Who hair. And if I remember correctly, she was the one who encouraged me in ninth grade to "go after Finn Sanders."
She barrels on anyway. "And you did have a lot in common. You two were always competing."
"Ummm, yes, you were. There was the Humane Society fundraising contest —"
Excerpted from "Meet the Sky"
Copyright © 2018 McCall Hoyle.
Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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