Vassa in the Night

Vassa in the Night

by Sarah Porter


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“A dark, thoroughly modern fairy tale crackling with wit and magical mayhem.” —Leigh Bardugo, New York Times bestselling author of Shadow and Bone

“An enchantingly twisted modern fairy tale, perfect for those who prefer Grimm to Disney. Inventive, darkly magical, and beautifully written, it will stay with me for a long time.” — Kendare Blake, New York Times bestselling author of Three Dark Crowns


A powerful and haunting tale for teen fans of urban fantasy, fairy tales, magic, and horror who enjoy books by Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, Catherynne Valente, and V. E. Schwab.

When Vassa’s stepsister sends her out to buy lightbulbs in the middle of the night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair….

· YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection

· Booklist Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection

· Booklist Youth Top 10 SF/Fantasy Selection

· Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year Selection

· Kansas Reading Circle Selection

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765380548
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 09/20/2016
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 478,203
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Lexile: 840L (what's this?)
Age Range: 13 - 17 Years

About the Author

Sarah Porter is a writer, artist, and freelance teacher who lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two cats. She is the author of the Lost Voices Trilogy (Lost Voices, Waking Storms, The Twice Lost) in addition to Vassa in the Night—all for the teen audience. She has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from City College.

Read an Excerpt

Vassa in the Night

By Sarah Porter

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2016 Sarah Porter
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7653-8622-9


People live here on purpose; that's what I've heard. They even cross the country deliberately and move in to the neighborhoods near the river, and suddenly their shoes are cuter than they are, and very possibly smarter and more articulate as well, and their lives are covered in sequins and they tell themselves they've arrived. They put on tiny feathered hats and go to parties in warehouses; they drink on rooftops at sunset. It's a destination and everyone piles up and congratulates themselves on having made it all the way here from some wherever or other. To them this is practically an enchanted kingdom. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now, but not the part where I live.

Not that there isn't any magic around here. If you're dumb enough to look in the wrong places, you'll stumble right into it. It's the stumbling out again that might become an issue. The best thing you can do is ignore it. Cross the street. Don't make eye contact — if by some remote chance you encounter something with eyes.

This isn't even a slum. It's a scrappy neither-nor where no one arrives. You just find yourself here for no real reason, the same way the streets and buildings did, squashed against a cemetery that sprawls out for miles. It has to be that big, because the dead of New York keep falling like snow but never melt. There's an elevated train station where a few subway lines rattle overhead in their anxiety to get somewhere else. We have boarded-up appliance stores and nail salons, the Atlantis Wash and Lube, and a mortuary on almost every block. There are houses, the kind that bundle four families close together and roll them around in one another's noise as if the ruckus was bread crumbs and somebody was going to come along soon and deep-fry us. Really, it's such a nothing of a place that I have to dye my hair purple just to have something to look at. If it weren't for those little zigs of color jumping in the corners of my eyes, I might start to think that I was going blind.

It seemed that way even before the nights started lasting such a very, very long time.

* * *

We can't prove it. By the clock everything's fine. The sun goes down around seven p.m. these days, right on schedule for your standard New York April, and comes up at six the next morning. The effect was so sneaky at first that it was months before anybody worked up the nerve to say anything. Then, maybe around November, I started hearing discreet wisecracks, muttered like they were something embarrassing, like, "Hey, Vassa! Long time no see!" when I walked into school in the morning. But winter was coming on then, anyway, so you could tell yourself that, hey, the nights are supposed to feel long now.

By January, though, it was getting harder to ignore. It gets to the point, when your whole family is waking up around two a.m., and eating cereal, and shuffling around, and watching a lot of old movies, and then it's still only three thirty so you all go back to bed, where you might kind of mention that it seems a little unusual. And when it gets to be February, then March, and the nights are officially getting shorter but everyone can feel how they drag on and on, the hours like legless horses struggling to make it to the end of the darkness, then you might even start to complain. You might say that the nights feel like they're swallowing your drab nowhere neighborhood and refusing to cough it back up again the way they ought to. And the more the nights gobble up, the bigger and fatter and stronger they get, and the more they need to eat, until nobody can fight their way through to the next dawn.

I'm exaggerating. Morning does always come around eventually. At least, it does for now.

See, to whatever degree we have magic around here, it's strictly the kind that's a pain in the ass.

* * *

So it's the middle of the night — unprecedented, I know — and the kid upstairs is practicing skateboarding on some kind of janky homemade half pipe and wiping out at ten-second intervals and I'm watching a random black-and-white movie with the girls people call my sisters, though they're sisters step and fractional. I forget, but I think Chelsea is step-half and Stephanie is third-step once removed, or something like that, or possibly it's the other way around. Whatever they are exactly, they've been assigned to me by the twitching of fate, and they're usually at least plausibly sisteresque. We even share a bedroom. The woman who it's fair to assume must have given birth to at least one of us, but by no means to me, is off at the night shift at the pharmacy where she works in Manhattan. Seems awful to be stuck with the night shift now, but she says it's not as bad there. She says people barely notice the difference yet in Manhattan. She says they can afford all the day they want. Maybe they've found some slot where you can stick a credit card and order up a new morning.

Steph whirls in with a bowl of microwave popcorn and sets it on the bed between her and Chels. She scowls a bit when I come crawling across their pink-fleeced legs to snag some, piling it on the back of my chemistry textbook and then carrying it to my own bed. However carefully I balance, there's a fair amount of drift over the book's sides. Popcorn is hardly ideal, too noisy, but it'll have to do.

It's a rotten movie for my purposes. Ingrid Bergman is kissing somebody. Personally I prefer guys who are less gray, though I guess she's in no position to be picky. "Let's watch something else."

"Shut up, Vass. It's almost the end!"

"Then you won't be missing much, right?" But there's no hurry. They'll put on something nice and loud eventually. There's a lot of squirming in the pocket of my sweatshirt and I cover it with my hand. Tiny teeth nip at my thumb, though the thick fabric keeps it from hurting much. So impatient.

Static abruptly drowns out Ingrid, forcing the issue. That happens a lot these days and then there's nothing to do but change the channel, which Stephanie does after casting a scowl my way. Just because it's convenient for me doesn't make it my fault.

The next movie is tenderly devoted to chasing and shooting and blasting. When the first car goes up in a fireball I slip a puff of corn into my pocket and then start crunching loudly myself for good measure. Chels and Steph don't seem to notice. They're mesmerized by the flashing lights. I can hear it, though, the shrill styrofoamy nibble-squeak from my pocket. I can feel the slight vibrations against my waist as she chews. A tiny fist prodding my guts. Erg wants more. Such a little thing, but she never stops eating, and why should she? When you're carved out of wood you never gain weight. I've seen her gnaw through a candy bar bigger than she is in two hours flat. I've seen her actually burrow under the crispy batter on a chicken leg and then pop out near the bone, leaving the skin sagging into the tunnel left by her mauling.

Erg and I have gone on this long without Chels or Steph or anyone getting wise to her. My sisters think I'm the greedy one, always stashing cookies in my pockets for later. They think I suffer from strange compulsions. All my clothes have grease stains on the right hip. Sometimes I get sick of how demanding she is. Sometimes I've even toyed with the idea of letting her go hungry for a few days, or even not feeding her again. She'd complain at first but eventually, I'm pretty sure, she'd just go back to being inanimate.

Instead I stuff a whole handful of popcorn in. No matter what I pretend, I'll never actually starve her, and she knows it. She's the only thing I have from my mother so there's nostalgia working in her favor, and then I made a promise.

Little crunching noises squeak from my pocket. I'm way ahead on my reading for school, we all are — Chels has already moved on to college math and science textbooks, just to have something to do — but I get out Great Expectations anyway and try to concentrate.

In the window it's night, with cottony puffs of light clinging to the streetlamps. In the window there's no hint of dawn. It's been 4:02 a.m. for an astoundingly long time. Then 4:03. Progress!

I look up at the TV for a moment to see a girl with big curls and a plaid cap walking past shuttered stores. The street is dark and she jumps as a rat skitters over her boot. She looks lost and lonely, hunching her shoulders to hold off the night. Then a tide of light washes her face and she looks up in rapture to see a BY's. Wow, you can see her thinking, it's still open! The store dances and spins and as the girl pirouettes ecstatically more BY's stores appear around her, and more, all dancing on spindly legs of their own, until the whole dark night gets crowded out by the flash of their windows. "Turn around," the girl sings. "Turn around and stand like Momma placed you! Face me, face me!"

We've all seen this ad a million times, of course. None of us can be bothered to make snide remarks anymore, or to mention that they left out the all-important ring of stakes skewering rotting human heads. All the mockery we could possibly mock is too done and too obvious and wasn't really all that funny in the first place. We used to sing, "Turn around. Turn around and run the other way! Chop me, chop me!"

We don't bother. Maybe it means we're getting old. Maybe the nights are so long now that we're only superficially kids, and we've lost years to the darkness.

Steph suddenly puts a hand to her throat and lets out a gasp.

"What?" Chelsea asks her. "You lost your locket?" She shoots me a significant look. The slight squirming in my pocket stops dead.

"I was wearing it! I hope — maybe I just knocked the clasp open?" Steph starts ransacking her pillows.

"It will show up soon, I'm quite sure," Chelsea says, taking time to enunciate each word, and arches her eyebrows my way.

I excuse myself to the bathroom and perch on the toilet lid. The bathroom is bright pink, with this cheesy mermaid wallpaper Steph picked out when she was five; the shower curtain is stained with garish purple streaks from my hair dye. I can feel the lump in the pocket of my hoodie but it's as still as a wad of used tissues. Erg is pretending to be asleep. I get her by one tiny wooden foot and drag her out anyway. She dangles upside down, her eyes closed, her painted black hair gleaming in its flat spit curls. She doesn't react when I drop her in the sink, which is enough to prove that she's faking.

I turn the water on full blast. I'm not a kleptomaniac, really. I just harbor one. Erg leaps up sputtering, water sheeting off her spherical head. Her feet clop on the pink porcelain as she leaps around but the sink is too slippery for her to climb out; she's lacquered so she doesn't have much traction. She lands on her carved blue rear, legs clacking. "You turn that off! Vassa! You'd better stop!"

"Are you going to give the locket back?" I'm not going to yield quite so easily. I'm sick of getting blamed for Erg's lousy behavior.

"Probably. Eventually. If you don't do anything to provoke me in the meantime."

I reach toward the knob that lowers the stopper into place. "How about you do it tonight? You can put it in her bed. So there's at least some plausible deniability in regard to my being a thieving psycho?"

Erg squeals and snaps her legs closed, wedging her feet below the metal disk that stoppers the sink. I could just pull her out of the way, though. Being fierce doesn't get you too far when you're an imposing four and a half inches tall. "You wouldn't dare!"

"Oh, Erg," I say. She reminds me of my mother more than I like to admit. "Just quit the damn stealing and we won't have these problems. Okay? Say you'll put it back tonight and I'll dry you off."

"And oil me?"

I turn off the tap. No matter how mad she makes me, Erg is still my doll. Her painted lashes flick up and down, batting droplets out of her flat blue eyes. "Sure. Just put it back."

"You're going to ruin my finish if you keep doing this," Erg complains. "I might even split." She waits for me to pick her up, buff her in a warm towel. Instead I stare at her. I know her ways. "I'll slide it in her bed tonight, and she won't have any reason to accuse sweet Vassa of doing anything untoward, okay? Okay?"

I pick her up between my thumb and forefinger and wrap her in a hand towel. She's a pretty thing with her swooping violet eyelids and tiny ruby mouth, her thin arched black brows and perfect curls. She has a carved wooden dress, sky blue with white painted loops standing in for lace at the collar and cuffs. Her exposed skin is just varnished pale wood, then her legs end in white socks with more of that curly trim and black Mary Janes, all painted. Her knees, elbows, and waist are jointed and she can pivot her head. Nice workmanship. Too bad they didn't spend more time on her personality.

In spite of myself, I kiss the top of her shiny head. She tries to bite my lip, but I yank her back in time and her little wooden jaws snap on empty air.

When I said that magical things in Brooklyn should be shunned like the plague? I'm sorry to say that's not always an option. I was leaving Erg out of the equation although, with her being a talking doll and everything, she'd be magic by anyone's standards. I don't have much chance of avoiding her, since we're bound to each other for life. And no, I didn't name her that. It's what she calls herself. When I was younger I tried to get her to accept names like Jasmine or Clarissa but she wasn't having it.

I plonk Erg down on my lap and get out the bottle of lemon oil from under the sink. It's her favorite and I always try to keep some around. Dab the oil on some toilet paper and give her a nice rubdown, working it up and down her limbs while she makes little purring sounds. Getting oiled makes her sleepy and she rolls on my black flannel pajamas and rubs her face against me like a kitten. She can be cute sometimes. She'd better be cute, really, considering all the trouble she causes.

"You don't like Stephanie anyway," Erg murmurs. "She's kind of a bitch."

"I like her fine," I say. "You need to quit projecting." Erg snuggles into the folds of my pajama leg, yawning and wrapping her tiny arms around the loose fabric. By the time I slip her back into my pocket she's fast asleep.

When I get back to the bedroom Chels and Steph are both glowering at me like they have synchronized brain waves. "You were gone a while," Chels observes coolly.

"What?" I say. I'm still standing against the door. "Like two minutes?" We all know how meaningless minutes are now, at night anyway. "Did you find your locket, Steph?"

"Yeah," she says, then pauses. "I did."

"So where was it?" I try to sound uninterested.

"In your shoe. One of the ones with the spikes."

My guts tighten up just a bit. "Weird."

"Under your bed."

"Double weird." Erg will be lucky if she eats again this week.

"You think that just because you can get away with murder with boys, you can mess with me, too? My mom gave me that locket, Vassa!" Maybe that's why Erg was attracted to it. Another mom-present, like she and the locket could be comrades and start an insurrection.

"I didn't touch it," I say. But this is one of those times when truth is utterly worthless. They won't stop scowling.

"Vassa," Chelsea hazards, "if you won't admit you have a problem then there's no way we can even try to help. You're basically our sister, and we both really want to be able to trust you. Right? And you're a great person, but you have this serious issue which is making everyone feel like you're bad news to be around. I am saying this," she adds carefully, "out of love."

"I appreciate the love part," I tell her. "But I didn't do it."

"Then who did?"

I can't answer that, is the problem. Everything would be so much simpler if I could just tell them the truth, and I want to. I could pull Erg out of my pocket and let her take some responsibility for once. But, well, I promised my mom, an hour before she died, that I would keep Erg completely secret forever, and feed her and take care of her, and — like three more times — that I would really, truly never tell anyone. I don't want to lie to Chelsea, though. "Not me. That's all I can tell you, Chels. Okay?"

"Very not okay." Chelsea is nobody's fool. She has huge dark eyes that could make anyone feel ashamed. "Very, extremely not. When you decide you're ready to try some honesty, V., you let me know."

Since there's nothing else to say I go to my bed and curl up with my book. They both keep watching me to see if I'm embarrassed yet, which I am, so I turn my back. In a way it's my fault that this keeps happening. If Erg can't control herself, then it's my job to keep her in line. I start thinking about those metal key chains that snap shut. Maybe Erg is going to get one installed around her neck, though I'm not sure if there's a way I can attach the other end inside my pocket that she won't be able to undo. Her hands are shaped like mittens with nothing but thin lines to show the separations between her fingers, but she does have opposable thumbs and she can work them like a fiend. You've never seen a human being with hands that quick and sly.


Excerpted from Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter. Copyright © 2016 Sarah Porter. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Prelude in Night,
Interlude in Fur,
Interlude in Wood,
Interlude in Scales,
Interlude in Sea,
Interlude in Feather,
Reading and Activity Guide,
Also by Sarah Porter,
About the Author,

Customer Reviews

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Vassa in the Night 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Mel-Loves-Books More than 1 year ago
“Sleep is larger than any night. It’s large enough to fill the mind. Its deeper than any night. So even the night can be lost inside it.” This was very much the strangest book I have ever read. And as I have been a rabid reader for years, this is saying quite a lot. I am still not quite sure what I just finished. I think there were references and symbols that could take years for me to fully comprehend. I sort of think that this is what makes this book so brilliant though. I would read a bit of the book one day and maybe even think of not finishing this book because of how strange it was. But then I would find myself thinking about it and wanting to read more. It gets in your brain and sits there. It did have some great messages about what family means, about heroism, and about grief. It probably even had some messages that were fab and I just haven’t comprehended yet. I say when you are in the mood for something very different and off the beaten path give this book a shot. I am giving it 4 stars.
terferj More than 1 year ago
2.5 stars What can I say about this book? My answer: eh. I thought it was an interesting way to retell the original (disclaimer: which I haven’t read, but I’m assuming it is close to it), but I felt this story was just too weird for me. I couldn’t really get into it. It was dragging for me. I was struggling not to fall asleep so I could finish this last night. I like the idea of the story but I think it was because I just couldn’t get into the way the author wrote this. IDK. I like how unique the BY store is; by the weird food inside and how the whole damn store dances. I liked how a few chapters was of other characters that was not Vassa and it was showing the past before this whole story began. I thought it was interesting with Sin and Dex. Those creepy things. Imagine if Thing from Addams family and the hands from Idle hands had a baby, you would get these guys. Erg was kinda cool. I would like if she was my doll companion. I don’t know what to say about Vassa. I just didn’t care for her and she was the main character. Anyway, it was a cool idea. Just not the book for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got this for my friends daughter and she loved it. Keeps demanding more nice work
TheThoughtSpot More than 1 year ago
Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for the arc of Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter! A short mythology of night is given before the story starts. Vassa lives with her step siblings and has a painted, wooden doll living in her pocket. Erg, the doll Vassa's mom had made for her, eats human food and tends to steal items from others. The nighttime seems to lengthen a little each night, so time passes slowly. Vassa is determined to figure out the problem with night. A weird story full of creative writing that reminds me of the Studio Ghibli movies, Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away. This story is like a mixture of the two with its own fairytale added in. Great writing + odd story = 3.5 stars.
Alyssa75 More than 1 year ago
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter Publisher: Tor Teen Publication Date: September 20, 2016 Rating: 4 stars Source: ARC sent by the publisher Summary (from Goodreads): In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood. In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission. But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair. . . . What I Liked: There are not nearly enough stories in YA that are heavily based in magical realism, at least in the last ten years or so. Magical realism isn't just fantasy or paranormal aspects; it's the combination of realistic elements with surreal or magical elements, in which the surreal or magical elements don't seem surprising or out of place. What comes to mind when I hear the words "magical realism" is Gabriel García Márquez, who wrote some masterpieces in magical realism. This story is a fairy tale retelling, set in an enchanted modern-day Brooklyn, following a young girl who is meant to be something extraordinary. Vassa lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters, the oldest who loves her, the middle who hates her. The family lives in Brooklyn, where Babs Yagg has a BY's convenience store, famous for beheading shoplifters. One night after midnight, Vassa's mean stepsister orders her to buy light bulbs, and the only store opened after midnight it BY's. Out of defiance, Vassa goes. And while she isn't beheaded, she becomes trapped at BY's, forced to work there for three nights and sleep there during the day. While she's there, Vassa begins to figure out how to undo Babs Yagg's enchantment, and how to free the mysterious watchman motorcyclist who is made more of darkness than humanity. This book is written in first-person present, following Vassa. However, there are a few chapters that delve into the past (and they are clearly marked), and they are in third person. While those few chapters were interesting, they also didn't feel totally necessary. This entire book is so unique, starting with the setting, the characters, the retelling itself, and the bizarre plot. I mentioned that this story takes place in an enchanted modern-day Brooklyn. Most of the story itself is in BY's, in which Vassa must thwart Bags Yagg night after night to stay alive. The setting is fairly-tale-esque, but in a more modern place and time! I love how imaginative and richly detailed everything is, especially the setting. I got a good feel for this distinctive world. Read the rest of my review on my blog, The Eater of Books! - eaterofbooks DOT blogspot DOT com :)
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
Sixteen-year-old Vassa Lisa Lowenstein isn’t sure where she fits in her family or if it even qualifies as a family. Her mother is dead. Vassa’s father stayed only long enough to settle Vassa with his new wife. So now she has a stepmother and two stepsisters. Chelsea is nice enough but Stephanie might actually hate Vassa–which is fine since it’s mostly mutual. It’s an odd living arrangement to Vassa but no more peculiar than a lot of things in her working-class Brooklyn neighborhood. The nights have been acting especially strange as they become longer and longer. When her stepsister (Stephanie, naturally) sends Vassa out in the middle of the night for light bulbs the only store that’s still open is the local BY’s. Everyone knows about BY’s, and its owner Babs Yagg, but people do tend to remember a store that dances around on chicken legs and has a habit of decapitating shoplifters. Vassa is sure getting out of the store quickly will be easy. Even her enchanted wooden doll, Erg, is willing to behave and keep her sticky fingers to herself this once. When things don’t go as planned in BY’s it will take all of Vassa’s wits and Erg’s cunning to escape the store alive and maybe even break whatever curse has been placed on Brooklyn’s nights in Vassa in the Night (2016) by Sarah Porter. This standalone urban fantasy is inspired by the Russian folktake “Vassilisa the Beautiful.” Although Vassa is described as incredibly pale, the rest of the book is populated with characters who are realistically diverse. Complicated dynamics within Vassa’s blended family add another dimension to the story. Evocative settings and imagery help bring this bizarre corner of Brooklyn to life including strong allusions to the Studio Ghibli film “Howl’s Moving Castle.” Vassa is a cynical, no-nonsense character who is quick to make jokes and take risks with the delightfully sharp-tongued Erg at her side. Vassa’s frank narration is sure to remind fans of Veronica Mars as will her resigned acceptance of her role as hero in this story. Elements of traditional horror blend well with high-concept fantasy in this surprising and engaging tale. A deliberate lack of romantic tension makes Vassa in the Night a refreshing read focused on themes of self-reliance, friendship, and family. Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Diviners by Libba Bray, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel