A gritty, powerful debut that evokes The Outsiders. You won't be able to look away.
High school senior Jason knows how to take a punch. Living with an abusive father will teach a kid that. But he’s also learned how to hit back, earning a reputation at school that ensures no one will mess with him. Even so, all Jason truly wants is to survive his father long enough to turn eighteen, take his younger sister, Janie, and run away.
Then one day, the leader of the in crowd at school, Michael, offers to pay Jason to hang out with him. Jason figures Michael simply wants to be seen with someone with a tough rep and that the money will add up fast, making Jason’s escape plan a reality. Plus, there’s Michael’s girl, Cyndra, who looks at Jason as if she sees something behind his false smile. As Jason gets drawn deeper into Michael’s game, the money keeps flowing, but the stakes grow ever more dangerous. Soon, even Jason’s fists and his ability to think on his feet aren’t enough to keep his head above water.
Still Waters is an intense, gritty thriller that pulls no punches—yet leaves you rooting for the tough guy. A powerful, dynamic debut.
Praise for Still Waters:
A Junior Library Guild Selection
"Parsons adeptly takes on the teenage male perspective in her gritty debut. Parsons creates deeply felt characters. Tight plotting combined with raw voice and emotion will propel readers through this thriller. Keep an eye on Parsons."—Booklist
"Debut author Parsons turns in an edgy thriller about a teenager whose propensity for violence gets him caught up in deadly matters. A dark, fast-paced, and violent crime drama about desperation and revenge that explores a complex moral dynamic. Jason’s flaws and rough edges help create a rounded, dimensional character, and his narrative is stark and compelling."—Publishers Weekly
"[A] provocative and suspenseful book . . . Still Waters features well-drawn characters, realistic dialogue, and ethical dilemmas that many readers have already faced or might have to face in the future. A great choice for reluctant readers, fans of books with male protagonists, and lovers of survivor stories."—School Library Journal
About the Author
Ash Parsons has been involved in Child and Youth Advocacy since college. Recently she taught English to middle- and high-school students in rural Alabama. Watching some of her students face seemingly impossible problems helped inspire this book. Currently she teaches creative writing for Troy University’s ACCESS program. Ash lives in Alabama with her family. Still Waters is her first novel. Follow Ash Parsons on Twitter @ashparso
Read an Excerpt
Here’s what you need to know when you get in a fight: you are going to get hit. It’s going to happen. No matter how good you are, no matter how fast you punch or how well you block. Sometimes, you just have to get hit.
What’s important is how you take it.
I used to get in a lot of fights. Now the only hits I can get in are when the spontaneous fights break out in the boys’ bathroom. Some bright spark came up with this lame idea: go to the bathroom, turn out the lights, and start hitting the first body you find. You can always tell when the fights are happening because guys will come back into class breathing heavily, smiling, and sometimes with red splotches on their cheeks or favoring their stomachs a little. I swear this one guy came back with a handprint on his face.
The teacher didn’t notice.
I always ask for a bathroom pass when there’s a dark-fight going on. Although I sort of think they know it’s me when I get in. I land a few hits and all of a sudden there’s the flash of hall light as the door opens and the other guys go back to class.
I still get a few hits in though. A few really hard hits can be enough.
I like school, and not just because of the bathroom fights. It’s quiet. I can sleep, and people usually leave me alone. Every now and then a jock’ll bump me in the hall, but I can handle that. And they all know I can fight – something I learned from my dad.
That sounds stupid, like some gauzy film shot in black and white and there’s this father teaching little junior how to make a fist.
My dad taught me how to take a punch.
That’s pretty important in a fight because, like I said, you’re going to get hit and what’s important is how you take it
If my dad lands one and you take it right, showing impact but not crumpling, he’ll maybe leave off, even if you took a swing back. He might shove you away. Stop at one.
With him there’s no getting out of it, anyway. No putting it off, or talking your way out. No running—it’ll just be there for you later. He holds a grudge like a knife, blade out, pale fist bowing around the handle, ready to mark you.
It happened again just last month. I got home and my dad was already there, which was the first sign of trouble. The second sign? Empty bottles clustered on the battered table, an arsenal of tiny missiles.
So when he started in, how he was tired of waiting for me to make some money, tired of me wasting my time with school, I already knew what was coming. And that there was no way out but through.
Instead of handing over the twenty I keep for emergencies like a good little boy, I told him what a crock it was. That good old Uncle Sam kept Janie and me fed, not my dad’s sorry ass.
He lunged, shoving me back, fist cocked at his side. I planted my feet and leaned forward while twisting and tensing my abdomen for the strike when it came. Which it did.
It always does.
A lot of guys don’t have a clue how to get hit. They aren’t prepared, haven’t tensed their bodies, aren’t ready for the pain. And no kid I’ve ever fought can throw a good punch anyways –not a real one.
One time I fought this martial arts puke. He thought he was Billy Badass and was talking trash everywhere. I was fine until he brought my sister into it, and since all the other idiots thought we should fight, we did. He fought to prove himself and I fought so everyone would leave me and Janie alone.
It only took a few hits.
This guy managed to block my test punches and he looked good doing it. My blocks are short and tight to my body, but his arced in these graceful curves, leaving his body open. It was easy to spot when and where to hit him.
I let it play out. Even though I knew how to get him. Because I kind of wanted him to hit me. It was just one of those days—I knew it would help.
I relaxed. I dropped my arms.
He pressed his entire body forward. His fist drove at my stomach, turning as he punched. I thought, here’s something, because it looked good. I tensed my stomach.
But when it landed I started laughing.
That’s probably why everyone except Clay still thinks I’m psycho, because I let him hit me two more times while I just stood there laughing. Because his punches were nothing. They looked great but stopped short – a little thump – like getting hit by a paperback book.
At first I wondered why such a strong-looking punch whiffed. Then I realized that he’d never really hit anything. He was one of those guys you see in strip-mall Karate stores, punching at the air and pulling their punches when they face each other. His punch was like that. Robbed of its own force. I laughed and punched him so hard he doubled over. I thought about my sister, what he’d said about her, and broke his nose.
Janie wasn’t happy with me, so I felt like an idiot, but it was worth it because everyone pretty much leaves her alone now.
What People are Saying About This
A Junior Library Guild Selection
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Nice story, well written, good character development.
Dark, gritty, and captivating. I wasn't sure I was going to like STILL WATERS, but I'm glad a gave it a shot. It's different from my usual YA reads, but that's okay. It's hard NOT to champion a character like Jason, even when you know he's going to make the wrong choice, repeatedly. For him, life is about survival and doing whatever necessary to protect his sister, Janie. His relationship with Cyndra was complicated and often times extremely frustrating, but I got it. The last 1/4 of this book messed with my head in the best way possible, and I didn't see the twist coming at all.
Wow...just an amazing debut by this author. Dark, compelling, gritty - I finished this book for the most part in one day. Although just a high school senior, Jason is hardened, distrustful, and wise beyond his years due to the trauma he's seen and experienced in his young life. His tough external shell hides an intelligent, loyal, and caring person who has learned to read people well - until he's offered money that could help with getting him and his sister to safety and a pretty girl comes into the picture, the downfall of many a man. Throughout this book, I was as suspicious as Jason of every character's motive. Were they to be trusted or were they playing him? Excellent suspense, pacing, and tension. Exceptional major character development, all having their layers gradually revealed and still leaving me wondering about some characters at the end; however, most of the secondary characters were one-dimensional and several blurred together at times. The scenes in which Jason was abused by his father were entirely realistic and I cringed repeatedly - not for the tender-hearted. One aspect of this plot bothered me, and maybe I missed the reasoning, but I kept wondering why Jason didn't hide the money he'd saved at Clay's house, as it would have been a safer place. The nicknames also seemed a little goofy to me, but that was easily overlooked. I highly recommend this book to fans of psychological thrillers/suspense. Looking forward to more from this author. Thanks to Penguin First To Read for the digital ARC.