A beautiful friendship and coming-of-age story in middle-grade, The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell is lightly futuristic, and deeply compelling.
Auden Dare is colorblind and lives in a world where water is scarce and families must live on a weekly, allocated supply.
When Auden’s uncle, the scientist Dr. Bloom, suddenly dies, he leaves a note to Auden and to his classmate Vivi Rookmini. Together, the notes lead them to Paragona robot.
As Auden, Vivi, and Paragon try to uncover Paragon’s purpose and put together the clues Dr. Bloom left behind, they find out that Dr. Bloom's death was anything but innocent, that powerful people are searching for Paragonand that it's up to Auden and Vivi to stop them.
|Publisher:||Feiwel & Friends|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 11 Years|
About the Author
Zillah Bethell was born in a leprosy hospital in Papua New Guinea, spent her childhood barefoot playing in the jungle, and didn’t own a pair of shoes until she came to the United Kingdom when she was eight years old. She was educated at Oxford University and lives in Wales with her family. A Whisper of Horses was her first children’s book. She is also the author of The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare.
Read an Excerpt
A DIFFICULT WORD TO PRONOUNCE
Sometimes, after school, I stand and watch the traffic lights. I stand and wait for the red to turn to amber and then the amber to turn to green. Not that I understand what is meant by red, amber, or green. They are just words to me. Words to describe things, to tell one thing from another. To pick things apart. Only, that's something I just can't do. The top light is red, the middle one is amber, the bottom light is green. I know that much. Like a fact from history that means nothing nowadays. Like the names of Egyptian kings and queens, or the ancient tribes of Great Britain. But if somebody had gotten up early one morning and turned the lights upside down — switched them around — I never would have known. They all look exactly the same to me. They all look the same sort of gooey gray.
Green, blue, red, pink, purple, yellow.
I don't understand any of them. Not one.
I have a condition, you see. It's got a funny name — a long name — that I can barely pronounce or spell. It sounds impressive, I know. But having a condition with a long name that you can barely pronounce or spell isn't much of a comfort when you can't even tell which side in football you're on at school. (The number of times I've given the ball away to the opposing team ...!)
Not that I notice my condition most of the time. I suppose everyone gets used to everything about themselves. I'm used to seeing everything look black and white and a washed-out gray. Everything.
I mean, it's not even like I was once okay. I've always had this condition. Right from my very first breath. It would be worse, I'm sure, if once upon a time I had been able to see color. Then I would know precisely what it was I had lost.
But the truth is I didn't lose anything.
I am how I've always been.
My name has always been Auden Dare.
I am eleven years old.CHAPTER 2
THE BOT JOB
Over the years my mother developed lots of ways to avoid using color to describe things to me — she would try to use other means to single things out. She counts: "the second one along" sort of thing. She compares sizes: "the third smallest." She does both at the same time: "the fourth smallest in the fifth row." She even uses the alphabet to describe different shades of a color. (A is the very lightest and, theoretically, Z would be the darkest. However she only ever really gets up to a D or an E, as her feel for shades is a little too crude for an entire twenty-six letters.) When I was really young, she drew symbols to help me understand the colors of certain things. For green she would draw an apple. For blue she would draw two wavy lines. She would scribble them on stickers and go around putting the stickers on everything so that I got to understand which things were which color. I don't think she did it for my benefit, though. I mean, it didn't actually bother me to know if a particular sweater was red or yellow. But I think she did it so that I wouldn't struggle around other people and stand out too much from the crowd. She did it so that I wouldn't look too much of a freak.
However ... having said all that ... even though my mother had come up with some inventive ways of avoiding making reference to color, sometimes — just sometimes — it would slip her busy mind.
Like it did the day she bought the Bot Job.
"I've bought a car," she said, pulling her coat off and slamming the front door behind her.
"You've bought a car?" I replied. "Why?"
She hooked the coat over the hanger on the back of the door and ignored my question.
"Don't you want to know what sort of car it is?"
I put the pencil down on the pad of paper. I'd barely started the sketch of Sandwich curled up and purring on her cushion, her eyes squashed shut, contentedly dreaming of baby birds and tiny mice. All I'd drawn so far were her ears.
"Okay, then. What sort of a car is it?"
"Not sure. I don't know much about cars. All I know is it's a big one."
I sighed. "A big one?"
Mum nodded. "Have a look for yourself. I've parked it out front."
"How much did you pay for it?" I pulled the curtains aside and peered down to the road, ten flights down. A number of cars — all of them old — were lined up on the sides of the road, each of them waiting for their owners to return to spark them back to life.
"How much? Only a quarter of a million pounds."
"A quarter of a million?" I couldn't believe it. You couldn't get any car for a quarter of million nowadays. It must've been a real bot job. Perhaps it only had three wheels or something. Perhaps the passengers had to hold their legs up because of the holes in the floor. "That's cheap." I turned back to look at my mother, who was now kneeling in front of the chest of drawers and pulling out lots of pieces of paper. "I bet it doesn't even go," I added, hardly able to hide my suspicions. "If that's all it cost."
Mum did her scowl face at me. "Of course it goes. Drives very well. It got me back here all the way from Romford, didn't it?" She took the large pile of paper and shoved it roughly into a plastic bag, before opening up another drawer and doing exactly the same. "Honestly, Auden. You should have more faith."
I looked back down at the segmented snake of cars below. "Which one is it?"
And that was when she did it.
"The green one. The long green one."
"Oh." She shoved the large bag aside, stood up, and came over to the window. "Sorry, Auden. I didn't mean to do it." She snapped the elastic band she kept around her wrist for such occasions against her thin skin. A tiny punishment for a tiny crime. "You know what I'm like. Too much on my mind." She looked out the window and stabbed her finger downward. "That one there. This side. One, two, three along."
I could see it. It had a long bonnet and a long roof and looked as if some giant creature had picked it up at both ends and stretched it.
"It is big."
We stood there in silence for a while, watching the people down below coming and going like dust on the breeze. Behind us on the sofa, Sandwich gave a short squeak, and clawed the corner of her little fluff-covered cushion. She scratched it hard, pulling out threads.
"I don't understand why you've bought a car," I said. "We don't need one."
"You know why," she answered, not even bothering to turn to look at me. "We talked about this last week."
It was true. We had talked about it last week. Or should I say she talked about it while I tried my best not to listen.
"Yeah, but what about Dad?"
"What about him?"
"Well, when he comes back home, he's not going to know where we are."
She reached along the windowsill and tried her best to give my hand a gentle squeeze. "It'll be all right. I'll write him a letter."
A letter? What good was writing a letter?
"But he's fighting. You can't just send him a letter. He won't get it. It'll just get lost or something. It'll get trampled into the mud in Paris or Rome or wherever he is. Then, when the war's over and he comes back here, he won't find us."
She leaned in close, trying to hug me and kiss me on the head. But I wasn't having any of it. I am eleven years old, after all.
"Silly," she said. "He'll know where we are. Don't worry."
Out the window a Scoot drone — one of the ones with reflectors for eyes and extended antennae — hovered its way along the street, its tiny camera head swinging left to right to left to right to left as it went. The sound of the buzzing wings dropped a semitone as it passed by, watching out for trouble on the streets below. Eventually, it disappeared from view.
"So ..." It was no good fighting it. It was all going to go ahead anyway, regardless of what I said or thought. She obviously thought it was for the best. "When do we go?"
"I've given two days' notice on this place. I've notified the Water Allocation Board and the War Authority, so we'll have to pack up and be gone by Thursday."
It wasn't like there was a great deal to pack up anyway. We didn't own much stuff. A load of clothes; a stick or two of furniture; a handful of books; some documents and papers; Sandwich. That was about it. Two days was more than enough in which to pack all that away. We could probably do it three times over in that amount of time.
"When we get there," Mum added quickly, keen to stop me from changing my mind again, "we'll find a nice school for you. A good school this time. Somewhere you can make friends. Yes?"
I wandered over to where Sandwich was yawning and stroked her until she began to dribble.
* * *
It may well have been a bot job (the way the doors rattled every time you opened them seemed to suggest that it had never been exposed to a single human being during its construction, only robots) but the car was massive. Absolutely massive. It had more than enough room to fit all of our belongings, and by the time we had finished filling it, there was still space for a few more suitcases and crates. I propped Sandwich, who was in her wicker basket, on top of a box of books just behind my seat and, after we had said our good-byes to the empty flat and the neighbors who couldn't have cared less about us anyway, we strapped ourselves into the car and headed off.
At the garage, Mum filled the Bot Job full of the cheap petrol — price at an all-time low, apparently — and then, reluctantly, added some of the much, much more expensive water to the water reservoir.
"It's a long trip, I'm afraid," she said, climbing back into the driver's seat. "Might take us a few hours. Make yourself comfortable."
The car rumbled unconvincingly along beneath us as my mother steered and braked and crunched gears in spectacular fashion, speeding up through the narrow, twisting streets of East London. There seemed to be very little traffic on the road. A couple of other cars. A few food lorries. Some war effort supply vans. A heavily protected water tanker. One or two refugees with heavy packs on their backs or pushing handcarts full of possessions. That was about it.
As we drove on — the Bot Job giving out the occasional backfiring bang — the buildings became smaller and fewer, and the roads longer and straighter. Eventually, the city faded into the countryside and the trees began to cluster together in dry-looking patches. There weren't many trees, not since the rains slowed and water got scarce. Field after field of ornamental cacti lined the roads while small towns and villages swept by.
"Let's play I Spy!" Mum suddenly sounded weirdly enthusiastic. If only Dad were here, I thought, so they could jabber on together while I sat in the back listening to music.
"I'm not four years old!"
"Go on. You go first."
I sighed. "Erm ... I spy with my little eye something beginning with ... er ... R."
"Road!" she shouted triumphantly.
"You got it."
"That was easy. Do another one."
"Okay, then. I spy with my little eye something beginning with ... T."
"No. No trucks here anyway."
"Er ..." Her eyes scanned around, trying to find something. "Telegraph pole?"
"I give up. What is it?"
"So you've had 'road' and you've had 'tarmac.' Hmm. I think I see a pattern emerging."
"It's pretty much all I've seen for the last two hours."
"Well, not to worry." Mum smiled. "We're nearly there."
Having consulted my wrist computer, called a QWERTY, ten minutes earlier, I knew this already. Cambridge was five miles away and at the speed we were traveling (fifty miles an hour, which, for my mother, is speedy, let me tell you) we would be there in six minutes. I also knew that the chance of precipitation was nil (as always), though the breeze was fair to moderate, that Cambridge was the epicenter of good taste and vending machines and that the vintage cinema on Collier Road was screening a black-and-white movie for the Old and Moldies, even distributing free popcorn to those who still possessed a set of their own teeth.
I eyed my mother sideways wondering whether to try the joke out on her but decided against it. She looked tired and strained and her hands were gripping the steering wheel like she was going a heck of a lot faster than fifty miles an hour.
"Yippidee-do-dey!" I said, trying to reach behind my seat to stroke Sandwich through the bars of her basket.CHAPTER 3
You might imagine that a house called Unicorn Cottage would be a magical, enchanted place possibly made out of sweets, like in that story Hansel and Gretel. You know the one. The one with the two irritating kids who nearly get eaten by a witch and only escape due to her poor eyesight and a thin stick. Yeah, really believable! For a start, a stick doesn't even feel like someone's finger. It's all cold and stiff. A finger, on the other hand (Ha! On the other hand! Geddit?), is warm and a bit squashier. Also, why would anyone build a house out of sweets? You couldn't possibly live in a house made of sweets. In the summer it would get all sticky and bits of it would probably start to melt. After a while, it would also start to rot. What a load of ridiculous, childish rubbish. I'm glad I'm not such a kid anymore.
Anyway. As I was saying. You might imagine that a place called Unicorn Cottage would be hidden away deep in the wood, surrounded by trees that whispered to each other, next to a rickety wishing well with a little roof and a shiny bucket dangling down. With uneven walls that seemed to sway in and out, and a roof made of wiry thatch. Perhaps a small, fenced-off rose garden that was overlooked by shuttered windows and a creaky wooden door with a small heart cut out of its center.
That's what you might imagine.
Instead, the Unicorn Cottage that my mother parked the Bot Job next to looked as though it might once have been a public lavatory. Or an electricity substation. Something dull and practical with no charm or beauty whatsoever. As if the construction crew who built it couldn't be bothered to come back to finish it off.
It sat on a lane on the very edge of the town, backing onto a low, flat field that stretched into the distance. There were no houses on either side of it — not for a good few hundred meters, anyhow — and only a small crop of tall trees across the lane in front of it.
If the house were a person, I realized, it would have been a very sad and lonely one. There was even a trail of damp underneath one of the two wide windows, which made it look as if it had recently been crying.
Actually, to call it a house was wrong. It was one of those little bungalow thingies that had been converted so it had an upstairs. A "dormer bungalow," I think they're called. Weird things. A contradiction in terms — that's how my mother puts it. A contradiction in terms. A bungalow, by its very definition, is a single-story construction. So to have an "upstairs" in a bungalow surely doesn't make it a bungalow anymore. Surely it becomes a house — yes? No? Yes? Don't worry about it. I'm always going off on a tangent like that. Sorry. You'll get used to it.
Anyway, Mum parked the car on the gravelly driveway at the side of the house and we both got out.
"Why did Uncle Jonah call it Unicorn Cottage?" I asked, shifting my seat forward so I could pull Sandwich out more easily.
Mum gave her shoulders an awkward shrug and fished about for the keys. "I don't know."
"I think ..." I said, looking upward and shading my eyes from the sun. "I think it must have been because the chimney looks like a horn. Right? It looks a bit like a horn coming out from a unicorn's head."
She looked up, too, and squinted, trying to focus. "Not really."
I smiled. "No. It doesn't really, does it?"
"No." She gave the keys a shake and they tinkled against each other. "Shall we take a look at our new home, Auden?"
* * *
It was in a terrible state.
After Mum had managed to shove the front door open, pushing the weeks and months of old letters and political flyers out of the way, the first thing you noticed was the smell. The cold, stale smell of damp. Like somebody had given a particularly fat and pungent fungus a kick, sending spores flying all over the place.
It was obvious from that smell that no one had lived here in months.
The second thing you noticed was the mess.
All across the hallway were strewn papers and folders. Books bent back hard on their spines, with buckled pages and half-ripped corners. A side table had been toppled, the contents of a small drawer spilling out and trailing like a tongue toward the floor.
"Oh dear." Mum treaded carefully across the debris, the occasional worrying scrunch under her feet, and pushed open a door into a different room. I followed.
The curtains were still drawn in what, I assumed, was the sitting room. What little light there was struggled to reveal anything. Now, one of the few good things about my condition — my inability to see color — is that I can actually see pretty well in the dark. Everything is much clearer to me than to other people, so they reckon. The outlines of shapes are more defined. The detail more obvious. Call it a lucky side effect, if you like. So, to me, the mess in the sitting room was easy to see. However, my mother was finding it difficult, so I grabbed the nearest curtain and pulled it hard.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Extraordinary Colors Of Auden Dare"
Copyright © 2018 Zillah Bethell.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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 One: Green,
Chapter 1: A Difficult Word to Pronounce,
Chapter 2: The Bot Job,
Chapter 3: Unicorn Cottage,
Chapter 4: Trinity,
Chapter 5: Snowflake 843A,
Chapter 6: Vivi Rookmini,
Chapter 7: History,
Chapter 8: The Seamstress,
Part Two: Blue,
Chapter 9: Trampoline,
Chapter 10: Invisible Ink,
Part Three: Red,
Chapter 11: Paragon,
Chapter 12: Purpose,
Part Four: Pink,
Chapter 13: Boyle,
Chapter 14: The Truth,
Part Five: Purple,
Chapter 15: Stars and Sparrows,
Chapter 16: The 726,
Chapter 17: The Wellspring Science and Innovation Center, Dartford Road, Huntingdon,
Chapter 18: Milo Treble,
Part Six: Yellow,
Chapter 19: The Water Allocation Board,
Chapter 20: The Brilliant Vivi Rookmini,
Chapter 21: The Truth About the Truth,
Chapter 22: Everything,
Chapter 23: Return to Unicorn Cottage,
Part Seven: White,
Chapter 24: The Power Source,
Epilogue: The Rainbow,
About the Author,