Under Shifting Stars

Under Shifting Stars

by Alexandra Latos

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Overview

This heartfelt novel for fans of Jandy Nelson and Adam Silvera follows twins Audrey and Clare as they grapple with their brother's death and their changing relationships—with each other and themselves.

Audrey’s best friend was always her twin, Clare. But as they got older, they grew apart, and when their brother Adam died, Clare blamed Audrey for the accident. Now, Audrey’s attending an alternative school where she feels more isolated than ever. Tired of being seen as different from her neurotypical peers, Audrey’s determined to switch to the public high school, rebuild her friendship with Clare, and atone for Adam’s death . . . but she’ll need to convince her parents, and her therapist, first.

Clare knows her sister thinks she’s the perfect twin, but Audrey doesn’t realize that Clare’s “popular” status is crumbling—she’s begun to question old friendships, dress in Adam’s clothes, and wonder what feelings for a nonbinary classmate, Taylor, might mean. As she grapples with not only grief but also her gender fluidity, Clare wonders where she’ll belong if she sheds her carefully constructed image and embraces her true self.

Will first crushes, new family dynamics, and questions of identity prove that Audrey and Clare have grown too different to understand each other-or that they've needed each other all along?



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780358067757
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 09/29/2020
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 269,833
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Alexandra Latos lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and children. This is her first young adult novel. Visit her at alexandralatos.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @alexandralatos. 

Read an Excerpt

Clare

My name is Clare. According to Baby Names R Us or whatever stupid website my friends were dicking around on, it means “illustrious.” I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant so I looked it up.

  1. Highly distinguished, renowned, famous;

  2. Glorious, as deeds or works;

  3. Luminous, bright.

      My brother’s name was Adam. It means “of the earth.” I can’t even explain the feeling.
      We were in the library. We were supposed to be doing research for our project on Canadian identity, but of course my friends had no interest in doing what we were supposed to be doing, so they started looking up names instead. Adam. When the screen loaded, all I could see was in the earth.
      Next they looked up Audrey, even though I told them I didn’t care. Noble strength.
      “Yeah, right.” I rolled my eyes. “Let’s spell it ‘Oddrey.’” We’re sorry, there were no results for baby names starting with ODDREY.
      My friends laughed, like I knew they would. I looked back at my screen. Luminous, bright. Perhaps my light died with you, Adam.
      Oh well, I can still remain highly distinguished, renowned, famous, and glorious.

That probably makes me sound mean. Sometimes it feels like girls in grade nine have two choices: be mean or be a loser. So I pretend to be mean, only sometimes I don’t know if I’m pretending anymore.
      After The Accident, my parents suggested I see a therapist. I told them No F-ing way. Audrey sees a therapist. So they talked to my teachers and it was “mutually agreed upon” that I would visit the guidance counselor once a week starting in September. You know, so I don’t get behind on my studies. It was a valid concern considering I had no motivation to do anything, let alone schoolwork, but I’m not going to give them that.
      It’s now May, so for the last eight months I’ve spent an hour a week with a bearded man who insists I call him by his first name, Kyle, and who tries to act like he’s one of us even though he was a teenager in the eighties. His “office” is located right beside the front door and used to be the front-hall closet. That’s just my theory, but I bet I’m right—there’s no window and I think he has to crawl over the desk to get behind it. Sometimes I wish the fire alarm would go off just so I could solve that mystery. The extra-shitty thing about this already-shitty situation is that in order to not disrupt my core courses, they schedule my appointment during my option, which also happens to be my favorite class and the one in which I have the highest grade: graphic design and media.
      And I never end up talking about Adam. I always talk about Audrey.
      It’s been three days since I found out Audrey might be returning to my school. Every afternoon, I’ve hung out as long as possible with my friends before going home and heading straight up to my room. When Mom calls me for dinner, I lie and say I already ate or that I’m not feeling well. It worked for the first two days, but now they’ve caught on.
      “Come down anyway and spend some time with us,” Dad says.
      So I do, but I don’t say anything. I hold a hot mug of tea in my hand and stare at the liquid’s surface. I act mean.
      “It’s not Audrey’s fault,” they tell me in private. I never would have gotten away with this behavior before. They have to be careful what they say around her now. She’s struggling the most with Adam’s death. She’s trying, and I need to be more supportive and try too. She’s my sister.
      After three days, however, they’ve had enough.
      “For God’s sake, Clare! What’s wrong with you?” Mom’s face is red and she’s gripping her utensils like that’s all that’s stopping her from throwing them at me. “I hope this isn’t the person you’re going to grow up to be.”
      I sneak a glance at Audrey. Mom’s mini-me—that’s what everyone calls her, because it’s freaky how much they look alike. She’s eating her lasagna slowly. She doesn’t show any sign of understanding, but I know her better than anyone.
      It’s hard to believe, but when we were little, Audrey and I used to be inseparable. We used to want to be inseparable. We were each other’s first friends, and the other kids were jealous we always had someone to play with. Audrey was always the imaginative one, the free-spirited air sign as opposed to the grounded earth sign, the twin who was coming up with new games and was willing to do things that were exciting, even dangerous, like attach three Slip ’N Slides together down the large hill in the park. The other kids in the neighborhood loved Audrey and were always knocking on the door asking if she could come out—they didn’t give a care if I was around or not. But then those kids and I grew up, and Audrey just . . . didn’t.
      Take sexual education class, grade seven. Billy is sitting in the back row. He’s the most popular guy in our year because he’s cute and not afraid of anyone, so everyone’s afraid of him. Even the teachers are afraid of him. Last week he threw Craig’s binders out the fourth-floor window and Ms. Johnson just kept on marking papers like she didn’t even notice.

Mr. Bailey: A girl’s first period usually occurs at about age twelve, but some girls experience their first period much earlier.

Billy: I don’t trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die.

The guys laugh. Mr. Bailey titters nervously.

Me (in my head): An ancient South Park reference. I hate South Park.

Audrey (out loud): Clare’s had her period, but I’m still waiting.

      Even now, the memory still makes me cringe. Not just because it was completely embarrassing, but because after Audrey said that everyone started laughing and calling her weird, and as her face turned red and her eyes filled with tears, I felt trapped between my own humiliation and a feeling of helplessness to protect my sister, even though she’d put me in the position in the first place.
      It’s not my problem. It doesn’t have to be my problem. But even as I tell myself that, I feel the guilt rise up, and I have to shove it back down. My family assumes I’m embarrassed of Audrey the way older siblings are embarrassed of a clingy baby sister. They have no idea what it’s actually like for me, and they don’t care enough to try to find out.
      Mom’s still giving me stabby eyes.
      “I don’t know what you expect from me,” I tell her. “I’m down here spending time with you. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
      Dad sighs loudly.
      Mom just shakes her head in apparent disappointment and goes back to her lasagna. Her dark hair is up in a messy bun and she’s not wearing any makeup, but she doesn’t have to. She’s gorgeous with her long, dark lashes and bright blue stabby eyes. It doesn’t even matter that she’s wearing the most hideous wool sweater in the world—one she made herself—over a pair of faded leggings. She pulls the working-artist look off perfectly.
      A few years ago, Mom started a store on Etsy making custom toys, and she’s actually pretty popular. She runs her business out of the attic, which isn’t technically legal. The floor used to alternate between rafter and drywall but six years ago Dad spent a weekend lining up boards on top of the rafters and nailing them down. It’s probably not legit and it definitely didn’t look like it, so they bought a few area rugs to cover it up. Every morning at seven a.m. the ladder’s down and blocking the entrance to the one bathroom we all share and I know she’s working on a knitted blue elephant that doubles as a ball or something.
      Dad works downtown as an accountant. It sounds like the most boring job in the world. I think he finds it boring too, which makes me wonder why he’d even bother to go into it in the first place. He works long hours and we can’t go on vacation certain months of the year because it’s “high season.” What’s really annoying is that he doesn’t get extra time off during “low season.” It’s practically free labor, but if you tell him that, he’ll give you a lecture about having a good work ethic and how much it pays off. Yet every year he’s disappointed with his bonus. He has to go into work crazy early just so he can be home for dinner with us.
      We’ve always lived in the same house. It’s super skinny and tall, like an old man of a house, with a party-hat roof and a crooked fireplace. We live on a street full of houses like ours: old and outdated but in a good neighborhood that’s close to downtown, so they’re now worth millions of dollars. Developers buy two houses and knock them down to put up three infills, which are these long homes with no backyards to speak of, but they have the good neighborhood thing, so they go for double the millions. I kind of wish that would happen to our house: that I’ll wake up one morning to see one of those big wrecking balls outside my window, and my parents will say, We feel the same way as you, Clare. We can’t live here anymore.
      The tea burns my throat on its way down.
      Adam was seventeen. Two summers ago he decided he needed his own space from his parents and little sisters. He preferred to live in a creepy basement in a room with shower curtains for walls than upstairs with us. He said if he moved down there, Audrey and I could have our own rooms. He wanted a drum set. He wanted to impress his new girlfriend, Dahlia, who was gorgeous. He was saving up to buy a car and working at a warehouse late into the night and he didn’t want to wake us up when he got home.
      Of course, he didn’t share all his reasons with Mom and Dad, but I knew them. There were times, usually playing Nintendo in the basement together, that he would show off about his girlfriend and I would listen to him, a lot of what he said going over my head, but too cool to let him know. Adam was my hero and I wanted to be exactly like him. In fact, I wished he could be my twin.
      This is the first semester Audrey and I haven’t been in school together. I want to keep it that way. I’m not going to let myself feel guilty about her anymore.
      Not since she killed Adam.

Even though it’s Friday night, I tell my friends that I’m not in the mood to go out. Sharon tells me not to let Audrey coming back ruin my life. Sharon is my best friend and the only other person in the world who understands what I go through with Audrey. The only person who recognizes how guilty I feel about wanting to be my own person, separate from my twin, and who sees how hard on me my family can be. After The Accident, I moved in with Sharon’s family for two days because it hurt too much to be home. Sharon did everything she could to make me feel better. She asked her mom to buy my favorite foods. She let us watch my favorite movies. The morning of Adam’s funeral, she braided my hair and painted my nails so I’d look better than I felt.
      Tonight I just want to be alone, but I need to feel close to Adam, so I hang out in the basement and play Nintendo until I can’t see straight. Adam and I used to play all the Mario games together, old-school and new, and sometimes Mortal Kombat.
      It’s way past midnight when I drag myself off the couch and cross the basement toward the stairs. Something flickers in the corner of my eye and my head whips toward it. One of the dark curtains that makes up Adam’s room is fluttering. The bottom edge lifts, almost as if beckoning me to enter.
      “Adam?” I whisper.
      No, it’s just a breeze from the vent. You’re alone, Clare. It’s okay.
      Shivering, I hurry out of the basement and to the second floor of the house, which is dead quiet. My parents like to watch renovation shows before bed, but they would have turned off the TV hours ago. There’s no light under Audrey’s door either. I brush my teeth, change into pajamas, and then climb under the covers.
      But I can’t sleep.
      So I sneak back into the basement and stand outside the curtains again. I’ve been hanging out in the basement almost every night since Adam died, but I’ve never gone into his room. Not even when he was alive. It’s always been Adam’s private space, and I’ve never had the desire to see it until now.
      Mom and Dad told me they haven’t moved anything in his room. I know it’s partly because they can’t look at his things without crying and partly because they want to preserve him, like some kind of Museum of Adam. That’s how I feel when I push aside the curtain and step inside: I’m a visitor, an outsider, hoping to understand my brother better.
      I kind of expect it to feel like a hospital with the curtains, but instead it feels more like a tent. He’s attached band posters to some of them too. It’s a small space with only a bed, two nightstands, a dresser with bookshelves covered in books and trophies, and a small rack of clothes. The rack used to hold his suit, but he was buried in that.
      My stomach rolls and I sit down on his bed.
      For a while I just sit there, looking around. This is where Adam used to spend his time. Where he used to sleep. This room is all we have left of him.
      On one of the shelves there’s a framed photograph of Adam, Audrey, and me, taken about seven years ago, when Adam was in grade six and Audrey and I were in grade three. Every year on the first day of school, Mom took a picture of us at the front door. In the photograph Adam is standing in the middle with an arm around each of us. His sandy hair is long, and he’s smiling with his mouth closed to hide his braces.
      It’s too painful to look at, so I tear my eyes away to where his phone is lying on his nightstand. The police found it in his pocket and gave it to us in a plastic bag, along with his wallet. It took my parents days to crack the code on his phone, but they were determined, as if it held some last piece of evidence, some small glimmer into his last moments on earth.
      The code was 2021, for the two dates in May when Audrey and I were born.
      They downloaded all his photos and saved them in a folder on the family computer to look at once they could handle it. Then they put the phone back in his room. For me to find.
      I roll across the bed to grab it. Of course it’s dead, so I have to plug it into the charging station on his desk and wait a few seconds before the apple icon flashes, followed by the home screen: a photo of Adam and Dahlia, both of them smiling, Adam’s arm around Dahlia’s shoulders. Yuck.
      I never really liked Dahlia. She always talked down to us like we were little kids, and they spent most of their time in the basement, which kind of meant we weren’t allowed down here. I blamed that on her. I hated hearing her voice when she called on the landline—which she only did when she was desperate. Usually they were having a fight or they hadn’t talked in a mere hour because he was in the shower or something. She was annoying.
      I open Adam’s photos. At first glance most of them are of skate­boarding. After dinner Adam and his friends would ride rails, aka the handrails of the elementary school. Our old principal hated skateboarders and put up signs all over the premises saying NO SKATEBOARDING. The first picture I open is of Cody skating the handrail at the front entrance. Next: Akish skating the rail directly above the sign, flashing a hang ten.
      Watching Adam and his friends growing up, I was always kind of jealous of the boys. They had it so much easier than us. They yelled like maniacs on field-trip buses; they acted dumb on purpose; they got dirty on purpose. No one expected them to be anything but wild, dirty idiots. Boys will be boys, the teachers said. It seemed so free. I’d get on my bike and ride past the school, catching glimpses of Adam flying off the rail and landing perfectly before coasting to a stop. His friends would cheer, holding up their phones to film it.
      I pick and choose pictures to open, skipping over the repetitive skateboarding ones. Drunken group shot in a field, looks to have been taken in the spring. Cody riding a large blow-up zebra in a pool and howling, a beer held high above his head. Dark photos taken at night: groups of guys and girls with their arms around each other looking half-cut, Adam kissing Dahlia’s cheek while she holds up his phone to snap a picture. It’s a good thing the ’rents haven’t seen these.
      Next I scroll through the album of videos: Adam skating rails, his buddies skating rails, stupid Dahlia roller-skating down the street, Adam and stupid Dahlia cheering at a concert . . . Until I see one of just Dahlia. It looks like she’s wearing one of his collared work shirts and that’s all.
      I hit play.
      The video was taken in this room. I recognize his bookshelf in the background, against the curtains. Dahlia is standing on top of Adam on the bed. He must be lying on his back against his pillows, because from this angle, her bare legs stretch sky-high. As I watch, she begins to unbutton her shirt. My breath catches and then I’m holding it, waiting. She’s moving slowly, teasing him, and my heart begins to pound, and I can feel sweat gathering under my armpits and a strange tingle at the back of my neck. I know what’s going to happen next. I know I should turn the video off, that it’s wrong to keep watching, but I don’t/do.
      Adam laughs low and tells her she’s sexy. Her eyes narrow on him seductively, her tongue tracing the top of her lip . . .
      I watch the entire thing. She undresses until she’s only wearing a pair of black panties. She’s thin with large boobs.
      Adam starts breathing faster.
      “Do you like what you see?” Dahlia asks, swaying on the spot.
      His arm whips out and grabs her. There’s a squeal as the phone bounces on the bed before the video freezes on the play button.
      I hit it again.
      This time I lie back on the bed against the pillows and hold the phone up, the way Adam must have done. I don’t want to watch as Adam’s little sister this time. I want to watch like Adam.
      I pretend I’m Adam and my girlfriend’s stripping for me. I hold the phone up and imagine she is right in front of me, dancing and stripping, and that at the end of the video I’ll reach out and grab her and pull her to me.
      They’ve taken a lot of videos and I find them all. I make a new folder called skateboard decks and move them there so he’ll never get caught.
      In one she’s completely naked with a bandanna around her eyes.
      “You better not be filming this!” she giggles. “I’m going to check your phone later.”
      “You won’t find a thing.”
      “You’re a pervert.”
      “That’s what you love about me.”
      Then the video ends, and I’m left sitting there with the phone in my hand, all alone in the dark.

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