A vivid, evocative YA lesbian romance about how the universe is full of second chances
Ryann Bird dreams of traveling across the stars. But a career in space isn’t an option for a girl who lives in a trailer park on the “wrong” side of town. So Ryann becomes her circumstances and settles for acting out and skipping school to hang out with her delinquent friends.
One day she meets Alexandria: a furious loner who spurns Ryann’s offer of friendship. After a horrific accident leaves Alexandria with a broken arm, the girls are brought together despite themselvesand Ryann learns her secret: Alexandria’s mother is an astronaut who volunteered for a one-way trip to the edge of the solar system.
Every night without fail, Alexandria waits to catch radio signals from her mother. And now it’s up to Ryann to lift her onto the roof day after day until the silence between them grows into friendship, and eventually something more.
The Weight of the Stars is the new LGBT young adult romance from K. Ancrum, written with the same style of short, micro-fiction chapters and immediacy that garnered acclaim for her debut, The Wicker King.
An Imprint Book
“The Weight of the Stars is one of the most gentle, gracious, and, overall, kind books that I've read all year ... It's a YA romance about girls and stars and friendship and mercy and loss and regret and what we owe each other and what we give away to lift each other up ... This book is starlight on broken concrete, it's flowers on a broken rooftop, and it's a masterpiece.” Seanan McGuire, New York Times bestselling author of Every Heart a Doorway
“As bright as it is stellar ... a story with a lush, dark atmosphere; heartbreaking circumstances; bright, new love that blossoms from ugliness; and vividly real, magnetic characters.” Booklist (starred review)
“Touches on sexual identity, friendship, nontraditional families, and the price of human space exploration. The characters' resilience and vulnerability are deftly handled ... For readers who are drawn to the unconventional, this will be a satisfying read.” Kirkus Reviews
“Their slow-burn romance ... is sweetly, devastatingly understated.” - BCCB
PRAISE FOR THE WICKER KING:
“Ancrum delves into the blurry space between reality and madness. A haunting and provocative read that will keep teens riveted.” School Library Journal
“Teen fans of moody psychological horror will be entranced.” Booklist
“Give this to readers who like complex, experimental fictions about intense relationships that acquire mythic resonance.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
“An eerie piece of realistic fiction whose characters revel in intense emotions.” Kirkus Reviews
“An eerie and mesmerizing thriller that questions the space where reality and perception overlap, The Wicker King is a spine-tingling read that will have you riveted.” Caleb Roerhrig, author of Last Seen Leaving and White Rabbit
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.50(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
K. Ancrum grew up in Chicago Illinois, under the illusory rigor of the Chicago Public School system. She attended Dominican University to study Fashion Merchandizing, but was lured into getting an English degree after spending too many nights experimenting with hard literary criticism and hanging out with unsavory types, like poetry students. Currently, she lives in River North, Chicago, and writes books at work when no one is looking. She is the author of The Wicker King and The Weight of the Stars.
Read an Excerpt
She woke up to the sound of screaming.
She always woke up to the sound of screaming. Ryann scrunched her eyes against it for a minute and then rubbed her face in exhaustion. Eventually, she heaved herself from bed and lumbered into the living room.
"Hey, heyheyhey," she whispered. "It's okay."
She picked up Charlie and put him in his rocker on the floor, tipping it gently back and forth with her foot as she opened the fridge.
Her younger brother, James, was still snoring loudly a couple of rooms over, but she waited until Charlie was clean and fed to pop her head in and wake him up.
"Get up, it's six forty-five."
James just sighed and flopped over.
"Seriously, James." Ryann pushed herself into James's room, kicking dirty clothes and magazines out of the way. She yanked his dresser open and pulled out a pair of torn jeans and a black T-shirt and tossed them on James's bed.
"I'm leaving in ten minutes." She slammed the door shut behind her.
Ryann wiped Charlie's face clean and buttoned him up into his cold-weather onesie. She packed the baby some food and then dropped him off with their neighbor Ms. Worthing.
By the time she got back, James was awake, dressed, and smoking on the front stairs.
"Did you eat yet?" she asked.
He stared at Ryann blankly, eyes bleary with exhaustion. His purple hair was a tangled nest. Ryann sighed in exasperation and went back inside so that she could grab some granola bars and her leather jacket.
She tossed one bar into his lap on her way out and hopped onto her motorcycle. Ryann waited patiently until she felt James sluggishly climb on behind her and put his arms loosely around her waist. Then she took off up the highway to the next town over.
The Bird siblings had had many good things snatched from them.
Their father had been a handyman with a small business and loyal clients. He'd had a big red beard and large hands and a laugh that echoed over fields and hills. Their mother had been a mathematician working for NASA. They loved their wild tall girl and small round boy as best they could. But, one bright morning, they died. Sometimes, people just die.
A little while afterward, James stopped talking altogether. Then, a year later he brought a baby home. A baby with red hair, owlish eyes, and a laugh that echoed. Ryann had questions, but James never answered them. And like on that terrible bright morning a year before, she swallowed hard, tightened her shoelaces, and stood up to meet it.
So there they were:
Sitting in the ruins of the best that they could build.
And it would always have to be enough.
There was a larger town near the one Ryann Bird lived in. Ryann drove them miles to get there every morning.
It didn't have a trailer park where girls could live, snug with their little brother and his baby. Or a Laundromat where most of the machines were broken. Or a big parking lot that was supposed to become a grocery store, but didn't.
This town had a school and a mall and the sort of families who made sure both kids ate their breakfast before they left the house. Who drove them to school in luxury cars and made sure they had school supplies.
It was the best in the district. They were lucky it was that close.
Ryann tucked her bike behind the school in the lot where teachers liked to park. James hopped off, smacked her on the shoulder in thanks, and ran to class. Ryann swung her bookbag over her shoulder and walked slowly into the building.
Ryann was always late, so she didn't bother to hurry. She used to run to get to her seat, but none of the teachers ever gave her a break so she just figured, why even bother?
She knew what she looked like, and she looked like trouble. So she was nearly always in it regardless of the circumstances.
Ryann had been trimming her wild black hair herself since junior year and it showed. After the bright morning accident, she had a deep scar on one cheekbone, and no matter how much concealer she used, nothing ever quite hid it. Then, to make things worse, she'd become so exhausted and red-eyed since Charlie arrived that she kept getting accused of being high even though she didn't even smoke. She looked meaner and harder than she had any business looking at this nice rich school in this nice rich neighborhood. So she just became what she looked like. It was easier than fighting it.
Ryann slammed the door open and walked in, passing right in front of the room, obscuring the light of the projector.
"Always a pleasure, Ryann," Mrs. Marsh, their history teacher, drawled sarcastically.
Ryann trudged to a chair in the back of the room. She dropped her bookbag on the floor, then tapped the kid in front of her on the back to ask for a pencil. Jefferson, who sat in front of her most of the time and generally had loads of pencils, waved his empty pencil case. He reached forward and tapped the girl in front of him on the shoulder.
"Hey. Ryann Bird needs a pencil."
The girl didn't even turn around. She just sat ramrod straight in her chair and said very quietly. "Ryann can bring her own pencils to school. Just like everyone else."
It was deafeningly quiet. Mrs. Marsh cleared her throat meaningfully.
"Any student who needs a pencil can get one from the pencil jar on the front of my desk." she said, looking at Ryann pointedly.
Ryann got up, went to the front of the room, and grabbed a few.
As she walked back to her desk, she reached out and let her fingertips glide over the top of the desk of the girl who'd denied her. As gentle and silent as a promise.
Their town was small. New residents couldn't escape scrutiny if they tried, but this was definitely the first time Ryann had seen this girl at her school. Even so, Ryann couldn't quite shake the feeling that she was familiar somehow.
She hadn't been called on in class at all, so Ryann didn't know her name. She was brand-new, so it wasn't like Ryann could look her up on Facebook by looking up mutual friends from school and scouring their network for her name.
And she looked different.
She was at least half black — which was rare here. This town was unfortunately pretty homogenous.
She had very short bleached-blond hair and severe, thunderous eyebrows. Her mouth had been tight and angry looking — which was rich because she was the one being rude.
Ryann stared at the back of the girl's head and tapped her pencil against the side of her desk.
The bell rang. Ryann shoved her things back into her bookbag and rushed toward the door.
"Miss Bird, can I see you for a minute?"
A wave of exhaustion and irritation swept over her, but Ryann turned around to face her history teacher.
"Come wait by my desk."
Mrs. Marsh wiped off the projector and cleared the whiteboard while the rest of the students filed out. When the last person besides Ryann had gone, she closed the door.
She settled back down at her desk and pushed a small stack of worksheets to the side. "I have a favor to ask you."
"Will I get extra credit?" Ryann crossed her arms and stared down at Mrs. Marsh.
"Hmmm ... maybe I'll round up when we do a bell curve."
Ryann nodded. "Continue."
"As you noticed, we have a new student with us. Her name is Alexandria Macallough."
"Rude girl, won't make direct eye contact?" Ryann asked.
"Yes. Now, I know that normally a request like this wouldn't come to someone like you naturally, but it would be a huge help if you could look after her a bit. She's going to have some difficulty adjusting and making friends here, and from what I can see, you have a bit of a track record for reaching out to people like that. Plus with the circumstances —"
"What circumstances?" Ryann interrupted.
Mrs. Marsh explained further. Ryann nodded and relaxed a bit as she listened.
"That's different," she said when Mrs. Marsh finished. "I thought you were going to ask me something else. But yeah, it's no problem. I'll see if I can get her to open up."
"I'm sorry. This is such a difficult circumstance for me. I've never had to assign someone to befriend someone else before," Mrs. Marsh admitted. "But I just felt like you might be the only person who could reach out in a way that would work."
Ryann snorted. "Well, that's flattering. Are you going to want to check in with me about it?"
"Maybe every few weeks or so. It's important, but not so important that we need to meet every day," Mrs. Marsh said.
"Hmm." Ryann crossed her arms again and thought about it for a bit.
"I would really appreciate it and I'm sure Alexandria would, too," Mrs. Marsh said softly.
Ryann's phone buzzed in her pocket, so she whipped it out. Her best friend, Ahmed, had texted a bunch of question marks. She sent back a single exclamation point.
"I've gotta go, but we've got a deal. If you don't want to do regular meetings, I'll just swing by after class if I have any questions or updates." Ryann walked over to the door, but stopped right before stepping through it. "And thanks for the bell curve leniency." She smirked.
Mrs. Marsh rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah, you're welcome. Go to your next class before I have to write you a pass."
2 HOURS AND 15 MINUTES
Ahmed Bateman, Ryann's best friend, was ten times what anyone expected him to be. He was beautiful, with black eyes and black hair that he wound up tightly into his navy blue turban. His face was angular, but pretty, and he was a bit on the shorter side.
He looked like his parents. Like all three of them. Two dads and one mom.
They showed up to report-card pickups and school events shamelessly, all three, hand in hand. There were ghosts of them all over Ahmed, to the point where it was impossible to ask who fathered Ahmed without being savagely impolite and overly specific.
Ryann liked Ahmed because weathering that had made him tough, but living it had made him sweet. A winning combination, which prompted Ahmed to decide it was a great idea to backhand Thompson when he called Ryann a dyke when they were in fifth grade — even though he and Ryann had never spoken to each other before.
They'd been close ever since. No one but James knew her better.
So when Ryann texted Ahmed that exclamation point, he knew to gather the others so they all could discuss something important.
2 CLASS PERIODS
A little past the baseball diamonds, behind the building, there was a huge hill. There were a lot of places to meet in the city, but this was the only one close enough to get to between classes without shirking the entire day.
Shannon, Blake, Tomas, and James were already waiting for Ahmed and Ryann at the top.
Shannon was exceptionally popular, but Blake and Tomas were a year younger, juniors like James. They'd both opted to be a bit more alternative than was considered appropriate — Tomas, gangly and tall with his bright red Mohawk, and Blake who shaved his head and had been giving himself stick-and-poke tattoos since middle school. They didn't have anyone else to be with, so Ryann had gathered them beneath her wing.
"There's a new kid!" Ahmed hollered up the hill.
"Really?!" Tomas shouted back. "Are you sure someone didn't just get a bad haircut?"
"NO!" Ahmed yelled indignantly.
When they finally reached the top, Ahmed collapsed to the grass, panting, and covered his eyes.
"It's a girl," Ahmed explained. "She's cute and stuff. She's got history with Ryann, but that's not —"
Blake cut Ahmed off. "So what, who cares?"
"I do," Ryann said firmly. She slung her bookbag to the ground and lay down between Shannon and James. "She's a celebrity. Well, kind of ... Do any of you remember that project I did for Science Fair last year?"
"No," Shannon, Tomas, and Blake all said in unison.
Ryann scowled. "Okay. Twenty years ago, after NASA was absorbed into the US military, a bunch of private space exploration companies got a ton of investments in, because a lot of people disapproved of the militarization of a public good like space exploration, which made space privatization seem a lot less sinister in comparison. Anyway, there was this company called SCOUT that was super focused on extended missions. They used their investment to gather a bunch of people to send off to the edge of space —"
"Why?" Blake interrupted.
Ryann shrugged. "It was a combination science and art thing. They wanted to have human beings experience the actual journey outside of our solar system. Kind of like the Golden Record, but instead of being there for observation, they're supposed to send back their feelings about the experiences they'll have. Plus, it was a privatized company so their regulations were a bit more flexible. Which leads me to my next point.
"The reason I did my project on SCOUT was because it was super controversial. Privatized space companies have more flexibility, but they still have to follow general laws. For this mission, SCOUT seemed to be scraping the edge of every limit. Everyone who went had to be at least eighteen so they could personally make the choice to go legally, but young so they'd have around fifty years of mission time. And SCOUT picked only girls because they naturally have better longevity and also did consistently better in psych simulations for long-term travel in tight confines."
"Yikes," Blake said.
"All the candidates were chosen specifically to avoid family attachments," Ryann continued. "But then a journalist uncovered that one of the girls got pregnant and had the kid right before she left. Apparently SCOUT suppressed information about that and waited to deliver the newborn to the family until the candidate left on the mission. Then they covered up their ethical fuckup to avoid bad press, at the expense of a whole family, but news about it wound up getting out anyway. The scandal was so dramatic that a bunch of regulations were passed immediately afterward to stop anything like it from happening again."
"Yiiiiikeessssssss," Blake said, wincing even harder.
"Why isn't any of this more common knowledge?" Shannon asked curiously.
"It happened when we were all maybe one or two years old. It was common knowledge and extremely scandalous, but it was a long time ago," Ryann explained. "The only reason I know so much about it is —"
"Because you're a turbo-nerd in love with space-trash. Or at least you used to be," Tomas interrupted. He was texting and barely paying attention.
"Wow." Ahmed turned to scowl at Tomas. "What is wrong with you today?"
"Anyway," Ryann said louder. "The only reason I know about this is because my mom used to be really mad about it and talked about it with her coworkers a lot."
"So what does any of this have to do with anything?" Blake asked.
"She's the kid," Ryann said.
Tomas looked up from his phone. "What?"
"The new girl is that kid," Ahmed said. "The one whose teen mom went to die in space, Tomas." He slapped Tomas's phone out of his hands and onto the grass. "Did you even listen to any of that? Her name is Alexandria."
Shannon put her chin in her hands contemplatively. "Did she tell you all this herself?"
"No. I ... haven't spoken to her directly yet. But for obvious reasons, Mrs. Marsh wants me to look after her," Ryann said. She tapped her fingers against the ground anxiously, then turned to Tomas. "Alexandria seems really standoffish in a way that reminded me of you when I first met you, so she probably needs a tougher approach rather than anything straightforward."
"Great," Tomas griped. "More strays."
"You say that like Ryann didn't come to find you, too," Blake said. He picked up Tomas's phone and rubbed it clean with his shirt.
2 HOURS LATER
Ryann walked back to school from the hill to pick up James. He'd left earlier to go to woodshop, one of the after-school electives. James seemed happy to see her and showed her the chair he was building, which was nice. But she kept thinking about the girl from this morning and how rude she was. It was beginning to piss her off all over again.
As they walked over to her bike, James bumped Ryann with his shoulder and raised an eyebrow questioningly.
"It's nothing." Ryann replied.
James scowled and gripped her arm gently, but Ryann shrugged him off and got on her bike.
"Quit it. I mean it," she snapped, revving the engine a bit to drive her point.
But it didn't help. James always knew when she was feeling any type of way.
He climbed onto the bike behind her and put the point of his chin right in her spine. Ryann sucked her teeth in sharp annoyance, but took off anyway.
After a while, James sighed in resignation and laid his head flat against her back. Ryann felt bad for snapping at him.
"I have to pick up some groceries, Birdie," she said gently, using his nickname from when they were little. "Can you carry them?"
He nodded into her jacket. She swerved past the exit home and headed to the store.
Ryann didn't like shopping in this town, but she didn't have many other options. Everyone always stared at her and James like they shouldn't be in there. But it had everything they needed, and the pharmacist was nice enough to remember James's name. Even though the prices were a bit higher than in the town they were from, the quality was always better so it was worth it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Weight of the Stars"
Copyright © 2019 Kayla Ancrum.
Excerpted by permission of Imprint.
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
2 Hours and 15 Minutes,
2 Class Periods,
2 Hours Later,
The Next Day,
3 Class Periods,
At the End of the Day,
The Next Day,
A Week and 3 Days,
The Next Morning,
6 Class Periods,
1 Hour and 28 Minutes,
2 Hours and 3 Seconds,
The Next Day,
6 Class Periods,
3 Hours and 57 Seconds,
At the End of the Day,
11 Minutes and 14 Seconds,
1 Hour and 7 Minutes,
2 Hours and 25 Minutes,
6 Hours and 13 Minutes,
2 Weeks and 3 Days,
1 Hour and 11 Minutes,
2 Class Periods,
The Next Day,
1 Day and 5 Hours,
3 Hours, 21 Minutes, and 17 Seconds,
Monday Morning, and Then, After School,
6 Minutes and 21 Seconds,
2 Hours and 17 Minutes,
1 Minute and 12 Seconds,
6 Minutes and 4 Seconds,
3 Minutes and 49 Seconds,
4 Hours and 10 Minutes,
3 Hours and 49 Seconds,
A Moment. A Year.,
2 Hours and 14 Minutes,
5 Hours and 10 Minutes,
6 Hours and 37 Minutes,
7 Hours and 8 Seconds,
3 Days and 6 Hours,
21 Minutes and 3 Seconds,
9 Hours and 15 Seconds,
The Last Day,
3 Hours, 18 Minutes, and 47 Seconds,
Also by K. Ancrum,
About the Author,