Tornado Brain

Tornado Brain

by Cat Patrick


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In this heartfelt and powerfully affecting coming of age story, a neurodivergent 7th grader is determined to find her missing best friend before it's too late.

Things never seem to go as easily for thirteen-year-old Frankie as they do for her sister, Tess. Unlike Tess, Frankie is neurodivergent. In her case, that means she can't stand to be touched, loud noises bother her, she's easily distracted, she hates changes in her routine, and she has to go see a therapist while other kids get to hang out at the beach. It also means Frankie has trouble making friends. She did have one—Colette—but they're not friends anymore. It's complicated.

Then, just weeks before the end of seventh grade, Colette unexpectedly shows up at Frankie's door. The next morning, Colette vanishes. Now, after losing Colette yet again, Frankie's convinced that her former best friend left clues behind that only she can decipher, so she persuades her reluctant sister to help her unravel the mystery of Colette's disappearance before it's too late.

A powerful story of friendship, sisters, and forgiveness, Tornado Brain is an achingly honest portrait of a young girl trying to find space to be herself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984815316
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 05/05/2020
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 97,952
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.63(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Cat Patrick and her family live near Seattle but spend as much time as possible four hours west setting marshmallows on fire and tangling kites in the curious town of Long Beach. There, Tornado Brain was born.

Cat is the author of several books for young adults including Summer 2011 Kids Indie Next List pick Forgotten, which sold in 23 countries; ALA 2013 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers selection Revived; and others. Tornado Brain is her middle grade debut.

Find her online at

Read an Excerpt


Myth: Tornadoes only move northeast.

People used to believe that tornadoes only move in one direction—to the northeast—but that’s not true. Sometimes they go southwest. Sometimes they touch down and don’t go anywhere, getting sucked right back up into the sky. That’s disappointing. Sometimes they zig and sometimes they zag. Tornadoes are unpredictable.

If a tornado was in middle school, it might get a lot of weird looks from other kids. Its counselor might call its behavior “unexpected.” Its mom might try to get it to move in the same direction as the other tornadoes just to fit in. But maybe the tornado doesn’t care about fitting in—even if it means not having a lot of friends.

I can relate because I used to have one friend but now I don’t. It’s complicated.

I met her during a tornado.

It was the first week of kindergarten. My memories from back then are foggy because I was just a little kid and also my memory is weird, but here’s how I think it went. Everyone was at recess and I was circling the outside of the play area alone, thinking of roller coasters because I was obsessed with them then, feeling my way along the chain link because I liked the way my fingers dropped into the spaces between the links and the way my hand smelled like metal afterward. Not a lot of people like that smell.

Sometimes I don’t notice things at all and sometimes I notice things too much. That day, I noticed when the wind turbine at the far end of the playground stopped turning. I live in Long Beach, Washington, and it’s known for being windy—so windy that there’s an international kite festival every August—so when the turbine stopped, it was different. I notice things that are different. The creepy green-gray circular clouds behind the unmoving turbine were different, too. That’s called a mesocyclone, which is a word I like.

I don’t know if any other kid on the playground saw the twister fall from the funnel cloud that day. I was probably the only one who was looking up instead of playing tether-ball or hanging upside down from the monkey bars or something. Being upside down makes my head feel funny.

I watched as the tornado hit the ground and started bumping toward us, tossing things that looked like bugs but were really recycling bins. The emergency system was loud, so I covered my ears. Kids ran inside but I didn’t run; I walked . . . in the direction of the tornado. I took my hands off my ears and heard the train sound, far away at first, then louder and louder. The tiny bottom of the tornado got bigger as it collected stuff, pulling up and tossing small trees and even sucking up a utility pole, sending sparks into the sky like fireworks.

I was sucked up, too—by an adult. He grabbed me and started running toward the school. I watched the tornado rip out the far part of the playground fence, which is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

“What is wrong with you?” the adult shouted, too close to my ear.

An audiologist once told me that I have better-than-average hearing, so it hurt. If you don’t know what an audiologist is, it’s a doctor who studies hearing loss and balance issues related to the ears. I don’t have either of those things, but still I went to one—along with many other doctors that have ologist at the end of their titles.

I cupped my hands over my ears, but I could still hear him shouting: “You need to listen to directions! You could have been killed!”

“It’s not my fault,” I said. “No one told me any directions.”

I bounced along in the teacher’s arms, watching the turbine pick up speed until I couldn’t see it anymore because it had a tornado wrapped around it like a big tornado hug. The teacher banged through the doors and we were inside the school, running down the hall toward the cafeteria. Without the distraction of the tornado, I noticed his painful grip around my thighs and back. I stiffened and started to slip from his grasp. By the time we made it to the cafeteria, where all the other kids and teachers were hiding under tables, he was holding me only under the arms, my board-straight legs swinging like a pendulum in my flowered capris. My armpits hurt when he finally set me down next to a table in the middle of the room.

“Found her,” he said to my teacher. I don’t remember her name. I didn’t like her very much.

“Come under, Frances,” she said. “Sit next to me. It’s going to be okay.”

“My name is Frankie,” I said, crawling under the table. “And I know.”

“You gave us a scare, Frankie,” she said, stroking my hair. I honestly don’t know why people think that’s comforting.

“Don’t touch me,” I snapped, scooting as far away from her as I could get. She looked surprised at first, then frowned and turned to talk to the man who’d carried me.

“I was just watching,” I said softly to myself.

“Watching what?” a girl on my right asked. She had braided orange hair with red bows tied at the ends, too many freckles all over her cheeks and forehead, and a terrified expression.

“I saw the tornado!” I said.

“I want my mommy,” she said before putting her thumb in her mouth. Now she looked like a baby. “Is it going to get us?” she asked around her thumb, making it harder to understand her. “Will we die? I don’t want to die, I want to be a singer. Do you want to hold hands?”

I definitely did not want to touch the hand that she had in her mouth, and I was overwhelmed by her questions.

“What?” I asked, blinking.

“My name is Colette,” she answered.

“That’s not what I asked.”

“What’s your name?”


“I’m scared,” she said.

I wasn’t feeling scared until the train sound got loud enough to rattle the windows. Then Colette hugged me, and I let her without thinking. Predictably unpredictable, the tornado would turn southwest at the last minute and just miss our school before being whooshed back into the clouds, but of course we didn’t know that at the time. I found out later that it was an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which is classified as “intense.” I didn’t know that then either.

Then I just knew that I was scared, too. I squashed my cheek against Colette’s, my arms around her. She was probably the first person other than my family members I’d ever hugged.

“If we don’t die, let’s be friends,” Colette said.

“Okay,” I said.

We didn’t die, so we were friends.


Part 1



chapter 1

Fact: In some parts of the country, middle schools have built-in tornado shelters.

Colette went missing on the second Friday in April, almost at the end of seventh grade. It was seven and a half years after the tornado in kindergarten, and Colette and I hadn’t been friends anymore for two months.

Before any of us knew she was missing, it was a normal morning. My mom appeared in my doorway at six thirty. Opening my eyes and seeing a person in the doorway made my heart jump.

“I hate it when you do that!” I complained.

“Good morning, Frankie,” Mom said in a soothing voice. “Time to get ready for school.”

I closed my eyes again.

I’d had trouble falling asleep the night before because I’d been playing something over in my head and when I’m thinking too much at bedtime, my brain doesn’t turn off and go to sleep. Plus, I’d forgotten to take the vitamin that helps me sleep. And then I’d woken up twice during the night for no reason, once at two thirty and once at five. It’s hard for me to get back to sleep when that happens. Adding it all together, I’d probably had about four hours of sleep.

I rubbed my eyes with my fists, then scooted deeper under the covers, wishing my mom would go away. But I could still smell the scents she’d brought in with her: nice shampoo and disgusting coffee. I pictured a cartoon drawing of coffee-smell pouncing on a cartoon drawing of nice-shampoo-smell. The nice-shampoo-smell fought back and shoved the coffee-smell off, then . . .

“Are you awake, Frankie?” my mom said.

I am now.

Lately, I’d been concentrating on using manners, so I focused on not yelling that I wanted her to leave so I could wake up in peace. Do not yell, I told myself, my voice loud in my head. Do not tell her to get out. Make your voice match hers.

I opened my eyes and looked at her sideways because I was on my side.

“Hi,” I groaned, my tired, grumpy, scratchy voice not sounding like hers at all. She ignored it.

“It’s Friday!” Mom said. “Or, since it’s your early-release day, should I say, Fri-yay?”

We got out of school at 11:25 a.m. on Fridays, so we were only there for three hours and five minutes, or three class periods—and one of them was homeroom—unless you were an overachiever who’d chosen to take zero period. Zero period is the optional period before homeroom and it’s way too early for me.

“Uh-huh,” I growled, rolling away and pulling the covers over my shoulder. “I’m awake, you can leave now.”

“You know the rule,” Mom said. “I can’t leave until you’re upright.”

That is the stupidest rule ever! I shouted in my head. It was almost painful not to say it out loud, but I thought about manners and counted to ten and managed not to yell. I threw off my covers and got out of bed, hunched forward, my fists clenched, frowning. But upright.

“There,” I said.

“Thank you,” my mom said, which bugged me.

I guess I should say right now that I love my mom, so you don’t get the wrong idea. She’s not mean or anything. I just . . . Things bother me really easily. Or they don’t bother me at all. I tend to have extreme feelings one way or the other, not usually in the middle. Maybe that’s why I’m sometimes unhappy. I don’t know. Anyway.

When my mom finally left, I put on my softest skinny jeans, the ones that I wore at least twice a week. Today, I noticed the seams digging against the sides of my thighs and I hated it, so I changed into a different pair. I pulled on my black hoodie with the thumbholes, testing out the feeling of that for a second, deciding it was okay. The seams of the new pants bugged me, too, so I changed into leggings. They had a hole in the knee but felt okay. I stuck my long fingernail in the hole and made it bigger.

I shoved my unfinished homework into my backpack, then went to brush my teeth. In the mirror, a girl with messy, chin-length hair and too-long bangs, bloodshot brown eyes with dark circles under them, and cracked lips stared back at me. I looked down at my toothbrush: there was a hair on it. I threw it away and leaned over to get a new one out of the cabinet. While I was searching, I found a headband I used to wear all the time when I was younger. I’d never wear it now, but I tried it on, wishing I could text a picture of myself to Colette because I looked hilarious, but I couldn’t because we weren’t friends anymore. I left the bathroom, dropping the headband on the floor.

I pulled my hood up over my bedhead. From the mini-fridge in my room, I got out the milk, then made myself a bowl of the single brand of cereal I like in the world. I checked my TwisterLvr feed and read about an EF2-category tornado that’d happened in Birmingham, Alabama, the night before. I didn’t check my other social media anymore because I didn’t want to see all the pictures of Colette and her other friends.

I got my jacket and left. I wanted to ride my favorite yellow beach cruiser to school, but it wasn’t where it was supposed to be, so I had to walk. Only a minute or two into the walk, my phone buzzed in my pocket.


Do you have your backpack?

I turned around to get it. At the door, Mom held out the pack in one hand and a protein bar in the other. Her dark hair was in a tight bun that looked uncomfortable. I patted the top of my head.

“Don’t forget to eat it, please.”

“I won’t,” I said, turning to leave again. She was always reminding me to eat. She didn’t remind other people to eat—just me. I guess maybe I needed to be reminded sometimes, but it was still annoying.

“I don’t want you to get hangry,” she said.

Did you know that the word hangry is officially in the dictionary now? It is. I looked it up.

“I’m old enough to know when I need to eat,” I complained.

“Yes, at thirteen, you are old enough,” she said in a way that made me think she was trying to make a point. “Did you brush your teeth?”

“Yes,” I said, not totally sure whether I had or not. “Bye.”

“Have a great day, Frankie! I love you!”

I made a sound and left again, taking the beach path so I could shout into the wind if I felt like it. I didn’t this morning, but I like having options. I like choosing what I get to do because it feels like people are always bossing me around. The only thing is, the beach path takes longer than just walking straight to school. It’s like turning the route into an obtuse triangle instead of a line from point A to point B.

Do you know what that is? It’s geometry, which I like.

I was late to school so often that the hall monitor didn’t blink. I left some books and the uneaten protein bar in my locker, which I don’t share with anyone because I don’t like when their books touch mine, and left a trail of sand like bread crumbs as I walked down the carpeted hallway to homeroom. The bell rang when I was about halfway to class, and Ms. Garrett didn’t say anything when I walked in.

All the other kids were already at their desks, most of them socializing. That’s a thing I’m not good at, probably because I don’t like chitchat—the word itself or the act of doing it.

I sat down at my own private desk island by the window and checked my TwisterLvr account again. Nothing new had happened since the last time I’d checked, which was disappointing.

“Phones away or they’re mine,” Ms. Garrett said. Some people groaned, but everyone made their phones disappear. Not literally: I don’t go to Hogwarts.

Ms. Garrett kept talking: “Let’s all work on something productive. That means you too, Anna and Daphne. Marcus! Settle down now.”

The room got quiet. Everyone took out homework, because first period is homeroom and that’s what you do. I opened Call of the Wild, which is about a dog named Buck who lives in the freezing Yukon. Sometimes I specifically don’t like books that other people tell me to read, but I liked that one even though reading it wasn’t my idea.

This lady—this specialist who was always checking in with me at school—popped her head into the room. Her name is Ms. Faust and she’s fine, I guess, except no one else has weird ladies checking up on them, so I pretended not to notice her and eventually she left. Ms. Faust was assigned to me or whatever, so it was her job to check in, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want her anywhere near me.

I was several chapters into my book when Ms. Garrett put her bony hand on my shoulder, startling me. I cringed and pulled away from her, biting my tongue so I wouldn’t say anything she’d think was rude. I didn’t want her to call my mom. I touched my opposite shoulder to even myself out, looking down at my notebook and noticing that I’d drawn a few tiny tornadoes while I’d been reading.

“Sorry, Frances,” she said, looking embarrassed.

“My name is Frankie,” I snapped accidentally. Thankfully, she let it go.

“Again, I apologize. I know you don’t like when people touch you, but you didn’t answer when I said your name.” I strained my neck looking up at her because Ms. Garrett is skyscraper tall (not literally, of course). She kept talking. “Uh, I notice that you’re reading your book for English, which is great, but I wanted to make sure you’ve finished your math homework. We only have a few minutes left in the period and Mr. Hubble asked me to check with you. He said that yesterday, you—”

“It’s in my backpack,” I interrupted, which wasn’t a lie. It was in my backpack. It was also unfinished.

“I see,” Ms. Garrett said. She tilted her head to the side like my dog does sometimes.

Behind Ms. Garrett, across the room in the regular rows, several kids were watching us. Tess smiled at me with her mouth but not her eyes, a halfway smile, which was confusing; Kai smiled at me with his mouth and his eyes, an all-the-way smile, which was confusing in a different way; and Mia didn’t smile, just stared, which wasn’t confusing in the least. I frowned at all of them and they went back to their classwork.

Ms. Garrett opened her mouth to say something else—maybe to ask to see my homework—but the announcement bell chimed, and the office lady started talking. That was unexpected, because it wasn’t announcement day, which is Tuesday. And if we had had announcements, they would have been at the beginning of the period, not the end.

“Attention, students and staff,” the office lady said. “Please proceed immediately in an orderly fashion to the auditorium for an address from Principal Golden. Thank you.”

Ms. Garrett looked at me blankly for a few seconds like she was stunned, but then she told everyone to get up and move toward the auditorium. Kai smiled at me all-the-way again as he left the classroom with his friends. Confused by how I felt about that, I waited until everyone else left, too, and then went into the hall.

I watched Kai walk like he was going to wobble over, laughing so hard his eyes got watery as his friend Dillon told a story about some try-hard tourist who had wiped out at the skate park. Kai had on dark blue skate pants with cargo pockets and checkerboard slip-on sneakers and his shiny black hair looked especially interesting, like he’d been blasted by a huge gust of wind from behind and his hair had gotten stuck. I could see a scab on the back of his arm above his left elbow, which grossed me out.

Their conversation got quieter, then Dillon turned around and looked at me, so I stopped watching Kai and stared at the wall instead.

You should know that most people think Ocean View Middle School looks incredibly strange. About five years ago, when the old school was getting run-down, instead of wrecking it and building something new, they just added on. The front part with the offices, cafeteria, and math and English halls is clean and bright, but the back part with the auditorium and shop and music rooms is dark and smells like old sneakers.

I like to run my hands along walls when I walk because I don’t like being surrounded by the other kids since they sometimes accidentally bump me. That’s what I was doing when Tess appeared next to me.

Tall and skinny, not as tall as Ms. Garrett, though, she walked sort of bent in on herself like she was trying to be shorter. Her smooth, dark hair was parted on the side, so she had to tuck the hair-curtain behind her right ear to make eye contact. Eye contact made me uncomfortable.

“Did you get in trouble?” she asked quietly, raising her perfectly neat eyebrows. I stared at them: Eyebrows are really weird, actually. They never exactly match. There’s always . . .



“I asked if you got in trouble?” Tess repeated.

“For what?”

“For not doing your homework?” She practically whispered it. Tess talked super-quietly, like she didn’t want anyone to hear her. I barely could.

“I did my homework,” I said, which wasn’t a lie. I’d done some of my homework. And it wasn’t really her business in the first place. But I managed not to tell her that. Despite getting hungrier by the second, I was doing okay at manners so far today. I mean, except when I’d snapped at my teacher. But since she hadn’t gotten mad, it didn’t count.

“Oh, okay,” Tess said. “Sorry.”

Mia nudged Tess and told her to look at something on her social feed and Tess did and they both giggled—Mia loudly and Tess softly—and I was happy not to be asked any more questions about my homework.

In the auditorium, I followed Tess and Mia down the aisle. Tess was half a head taller than Mia and Mia’s butt was half a cheek bigger than Tess’s. Tess walked like a normal teenager in her skinny jeans and gray T-shirt with an open sweater that looked like a blanket over it. Mia swayed her hips back and forth in her flowy jumpsuit, making her long, curly blond hair sway, too. They picked a row and I sat behind them on the end by the aisle. I looked around, not seeing where Kai was sitting.

I did notice Ms. Faust smiling at me encouragingly from where she was leaning against the far wall. I wished she’d look at someone else.

“Move over,” a mean kid named Alex said, staring down at me. He was always yelling at people-—a few times even teachers. I may have big emotions, but not like Alex. “Make room for other people.”

“I was here first,” I said, my need to sit on the aisle outweighing my desire not to get yelled at by Alex. I really don’t like being surrounded. “Here,” I said, moving my knees to the left so he could squeeze through.

“Whatever,” Alex said, shaking his head and stepping on my foot as he shoved past me.

“Ouch!” I said loudly. He rolled his eyes and didn’t apologize. I folded my arms over my chest and slumped down in my chair.

It took a while for all 323 students to sit down. Well, 322 today, but we didn’t know that yet. The room felt like being on a beach when an electrical storm is coming, like you could get zapped any minute. That’s figurative language—similes and metaphors and stuff. I’m trying to use it more instead of being so literal all the time because people laugh at you when you’re literal.

Onstage, Principal Golden held up a hand with her middle and ring finger touching her thumb, the pointer and pinkie sticking straight up: the Quiet Coyote.

“So lame,” I heard Alex say loudly. Principal Golden looked right at him in a way I wouldn’t want to be looked at by the principal, and he didn’t say anything else.

Principal Golden sniffed loudly into the microphone.

“Something has happened,” she said, her p’s making irritating popping sounds in the mic. “This morning, there has been an incident. We’re not sure of the details, but one of our Ocean View students is missing.”

I heard the buzzing of the microphone for a couple of seconds before the entire auditorium broke out in whispers.

“Did she say missing?”

“I wonder who it is?”

“What do you think happened?”

My mind started ping-ponging from the idea of a missing student to the missing-kid posters on the bulletin board at I Scream for Ice Cream, where my biological father made me and my sister go when he visited last year even though it was the middle of winter and pouring rain and my sister is lactose intolerant. I shook my head to tune back in to what Principal Golden was saying.

“ . . . investigating and we don’t know anything more at this time. The police are searching the school and want to speak to select students. Rather than further disrupting this already short school day, the administration has decided to cancel class for the rest of the day. If you ride the bus, please see Mrs. Taylor in the office for instructions on . . .”

Everyone got up at once and started talking except me: I stayed in my seat, waiting for the auditorium to thin out. My row had to exit from the other side because I was blocking my end: even mean Alex went the other way, and I was glad because I didn’t want my foot trampled again.

It was 9:40 and I was supposed to be starting second period, English, but instead I was going to go home. My stomach rolled with the weird feeling of change. Change is my enemy.

“She’s not answering her phone.”

I looked over to see Tess and Mia huddled together in the aisle, whispering to each other. “When’s the last time you talked to her?”

“Last night before dinner,” Mia said, spinning the ring on her middle finger. “She wasn’t in zero period. I thought she slept in.”

“That’s not like her, though,” Tess said, chewing her lip. “Her bag’s not in our locker.” I leaned forward so I could hear Tess better, wondering if it bugged her that Mia’s curls were touching her hand. I brushed my own hand like they’d been touching mine. “Is she home sick?”

They looked at each other, both with big eyes that reminded me of a certain comic book cat, Mia’s blue like a sunny day and Tess’s green-gray like a cloudy one. Maybe they felt me watching them because they both looked at me at the same time.

“Have you talked to Colette?” Tess asked in her tentative voice.

“Of course I’ve talked to Colette,” I said.

“I mean recently,” Tess clarified. “Like, did you talk to Colette yesterday?” Now she was pulling on the lip she’d been biting. It was distracting: I wished she’d leave her lip alone.

“No,” I said, just to say something. No is an easy response for me.

“This is serious,” Mia said, leaning forward like my therapist did sometimes. She lowered her voice. “What if it’s her?”

“What if what’s her?” I asked.

Mia sighed loudly. “Why are you always so spacey?”

Tess gave her a look, then explained, “Frankie, what we’re asking is: What if the missing student is Colette?”

I stared at her without saying anything because that idea really didn’t make sense to me—since I obviously didn’t know at the time that the missing student was Colette and since I’d been mostly thinking that it felt strange being told to go home when I’d just gotten to school. This was not my normal routine.

“Come on,” Mia said, pulling on Tess’s arm, “let’s go see if the teachers need help.”

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