Friendship is a bond stronger than secrets in this novel from the author of The Almost Truth and Unraveling Isobel.
As first graders, Avery and Nora bonded over a special trait they shared—they were both adopted.
Years later, Avery is smart, popular, and on the cheerleading squad, while Nora spends her time on the fringes of school society, wearing black, reading esoteric poetry, and listening to obscure music. They never interact...until the night Nora approaches Avery at a party, saying it’s urgent. She tells Avery that she thought she found her birth mom—but it turned out to be a cruel lie. Avery feels for Nora, but returns to her friends at the party.
Then Avery learns that Nora overdosed on pills. Left to cope with Nora’s loss and questioning her own actions, Avery decides to honor her friend by launching a search for her own birth mother. Aided by Brody, a friend of Nora’s who is also looking for a way to respect Nora’s legacy, Avery embarks on an emotional quest. But what she’s really seeking might go far deeper than just genetics…
About the Author
Eileen Cook spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. She is the author of The Almost Truth, Unraveling Isobel, The Education of Hailey Kendrick, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood, and What Would Emma Do? as well as the Fourth Grade Fairy series. She lives in Vancouver with her husband and dogs. Visit her at EileenCook.com.
Read an Excerpt
Year of Mistaken Discoveries
It was clear that beer didn’t make my boyfriend a deep thinker.
“I never thought about it before, but Jesus was adopted.” Colton nodded slowly, as if realizing something very profound. Or he didn’t want to move too quickly in case he got the spins. “Joseph was, like, his stepdad.”
I tried to push down my sense of annoyance. He’d promised he wouldn’t get drunk tonight, and he’d already moved past drunk and into wasted territory. Then there was the fact that just about everything Colton did lately annoyed me. “What’s your point?”
I could see the wheels in Colton’s brain trying to churn their way through the waves of Budweiser and come up with a clear thought. “I’m pointing out you’ve got something in common with Jesus.”
“That is so cool,” Colton’s friend Ryan said. “It’s like that six degrees of separation thing.”
I managed to avoid rolling my eyes at the both of them. The party at Ryan’s was lame, and the revelation I had an inside connection with the Son of God wasn’t making it better. We were playing a game, two truths and a lie. You were supposed to say three things about yourself and make one of them a lie. The other person had to guess which one was made up. If they guessed correctly, you had to drink. If you fooled them, they had to drink. When it had been my turn, I’d listed:
—I’m in love with Colton.
—I’ve already met my future roommate at Duke.
“I can’t believe you’re adopted,” Ryan said again. This was at least the third time he’d said it since I told him he guessed wrong. “How come you never told me before?”
My friend Lydia shoved him in the side. “Maybe Avery didn’t tell you because it’s none of your business, Mr. McNosy. Drop it, already.” She shot a smile over to me. She had picked up on how uncomfortable the whole conversation was making me. Lydia was one of those people who always tried to make things better for other people. She was like the Mother Teresa of our high school. Assuming Mother Teresa was a cheerleader and capable of tossing back Jägermeister shots.
There was no big reason I hadn’t told Ryan I was adopted before now. It wasn’t a deep dark secret that I didn’t want people to know; after all, I’d been the one to make it a part of the game. To be honest, I couldn’t always remember who knew and who didn’t. Now I wished I hadn’t brought it up at all. I’d assumed he would know that the lie was about Duke. Although I was obsessed with getting into Duke, I hadn’t even been accepted yet, let alone assigned a roommate.
“We should get going,” I said to Colton. I didn’t say anything about how earlier he had begged me for a ride so that he wouldn’t be out too late since he had practice the next day. “Or you can stay; it’s up to you.”
Colton sighed as if the weight of the world was pressing down on him. “Why do your parents treat you like you’re ten? We’re seniors. You’re the only person who has to be home by midnight on a Saturday.”
Proof of why my parents didn’t want me out late came bursting into the room. A group of guys from the football team ran through the living room, carrying on their shoulders some poor junior who was laughing hysterically. They went through the French doors that led outside and tossed the junior into the deep end of the pool. A cheer went up from the crowd. Someone had already dumped hundreds of packets of Crystal Light into the water, dying it a faint orange in honor of our school colors. Go Tiger Cats. Now that we were seniors and creeping closer to graduation, we were starting to get nostalgic for the place we all kept saying we couldn’t wait to leave behind. When Ryan’s parents got back from Hawaii, he was going to be grounded for life.
“Can’t you text them and tell them you’re going to be late?” Colton suggested. “Just like a half hour. We’re having fun.”
I felt like pointing out that we weren’t having fun. He was. If I was really honest, I’d given two lies and only one truth. I wasn’t in love with Colton. What we had felt like a business arrangement. He was on the football team. I was a cheerleader. We were both popular. Our friends were going out with each other. It was like we were destined to date, regardless of the fact that we had almost nothing in common. When he asked me out last year, my two best friends had been so excited that I got excited too. There was no reason not to love Colton. He was good-looking and, despite the way he was acting at the moment, he was smart. He’d early applied to Harvard and was practically guaranteed a place. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him; the problem was it didn’t go beyond that. I couldn’t even say I needed him to grow on me; we’d gone out for almost a year. I could tell the feeling was mutual. Colton liked me, but he didn’t love me either. We stayed together because there wasn’t really a reason to break up.
“Let’s play a different game,” my friend Shannon suggested. “We pick a person, and then we each write down two things that describe them on a piece of paper and put it into a bowl. The person has to draw from the bowl and guess who would describe them that way.” Shannon got up from the floor, swayed for a moment, and then made it over to the hutch and grabbed the pad of paper by the phone. She started tearing off sheets and passing them around to the crowd that was in the living room. “Okay, we’ll start with Avery!”
“No, that’s okay,” I protested, but I was drowned out. Everyone scribbled something on their sheets and passed them to Shannon, who dumped them into a fancy crystal bowl that was on the shelf. I really hoped she didn’t drop it. It looked expensive.
“Okay, close your eyes and pick.”
I reached into the bowl and grabbed a slip of paper, reading it out loud for the group. “ ‘Super friendly and best gymnast on the cheer squad.’ ” I looked around the room. I spotted Liz near the back. She had pink lipstick on her teeth. Liz was a sophomore and an alternate on our cheer squad. She was nice, but she tried entirely too hard. You could smell the desperation to be liked coming off of her in waves. “I’m going to say Liz wrote this,” I said.
She squealed. “Oh my God! How’d you guess?” She glanced at the people around her. “I should have put down that she was smart, too, but I could only pick two things.”
I smiled. Figuring out it was her hadn’t exactly required the deduction skills of Sherlock Holmes. It didn’t hurt that she dotted her i’s with a heart. She had the handwriting of a sixth grader.
“Must be nice to have a girlfriend who’s a gymnast,” Ryan said to Colton with a wag of his eyebrows.
“Gotta love a girl who’s flexible,” Colton shot back, and the two of them clinked beer bottles.
I shot daggers at Colton.
“Keep the game going. Pick another paper,” Lydia called out, guessing that I was getting annoyed.
I grabbed another sheet. “ ‘She walks in beauty, like the night . . . and all that’s best of dark and bright,’ ” I read out. My forehead wrinkled. I wasn’t even sure what that meant. I looked around the room, but everyone else was looking at each other, trying to figure out who had written it. The words were in tight, all capital letters; it looked like it could have been typed. “I don’t know,” I said.
“Okay, fess up. Who said it?” Shannon slurred. She pouted when no one volunteered. “C’mon, the point of the game is to figure out who said what.”
I felt my cheeks burning. Suddenly I felt embarrassed, like I was the one who had said something private.
“Someone’s got a crush on you,” Lydia said in a singsong voice.
“Well, I’m not sharing.” Colton slapped me on the thigh.
I felt another layer of enamel grind down under my teeth. “I don’t want to play anymore.” I got up from the sofa and stormed off toward the kitchen, weaving my way through the crowd.
“Dude, you are in trouble,” I heard Ryan say as I walked out of the room.
The kitchen was cooler, no doubt due to the fact that someone had left the sliding door to the backyard wide open. A pile of leaves had blown in. Ryan was going to have to rake the kitchen in the morning. I poured myself a glass of water.
“Hey. Are you okay?”
I turned around and saw Brody Garret standing there. He’d transferred to our school at the end of last year, but he never bothered trying to fit in. He wasn’t a part of any of the groups at school. He wasn’t a jock or a nerd; he didn’t play in the band or go out for drama. He wasn’t a stoner or on the student council. He wasn’t popular, but he wasn’t unpopular, either. He always struck me as someone who was studying the rest of us for some kind of in-depth story on the modern high school. He had this way of staring at you that made you feel as if he was really seeing you. Seeing what no one else noticed.
“Do you need a ride home?” He motioned to the door. “I can give you one if you want. I don’t mind leaving.”
I stared at him. Brody was slim, but fit. He had the body of a dancer; he moved like he had no joints, almost like he floated. His smile was crooked, with one side of his mouth pulling up higher than the other. He looked to me like he belonged in New York, not the middle of Michigan. He stood out in our school. I cocked my head to the side. He might have been different enough to write down that odd description of me. I wanted to ask him, but I didn’t know if he meant it as a compliment, or a way to make fun of me.
“Aren’t you enjoying the party?” I asked.
Brody looked around the room. Shannon ran through the kitchen squealing until one of the football players grabbed her and tossed her over his shoulder. She was beating on his back, laughing while he carried her into the living room. There was a splash and a loud cheer outside; it sounded like someone had either jumped into the pool or maybe tossed in one of the lounge chairs. Brody glanced over at me and raised an eyebrow.
“This is supposed to be the party of the year,” I told him.
“It’s only October. I’m holding out for better.”
The sound of someone vomiting in the powder room next door carried through the wall. “Sort of hard to top this,” I said.
“Dare to dream.” He smiled and I found myself smiling back.
Colton burst into the kitchen with Ryan and Karl, Lydia’s boyfriend. Brody took a step to the side. I hadn’t realized we were standing that close. Colton fell on his knees in front of me. “You gotta forgive me.” He turned around and motioned to his friends, who also went down on their knees, although Ryan almost fell over completely. “They want you to forgive me too.”
“Colton,” I said. “Get up.”
He shuffled forward on his knees. “Not until you forgive me. I was being a pig.” Ryan started oinking loudly behind Colton. Karl tried to oink, but it came out more like a snort.
“I don’t really want to talk about this here,” I said, my voice low. I didn’t want to look up to see Brody’s expression.
“No problem.” Colton leaped up. “Gentlemen, if you’ll excuse us.” His arm circled around me and he pulled me into the pantry. He shut the door behind us. He pressed me up against the shelves. The smells of cinnamon, basil, and pepper filled my nose from the spice rack behind me. “I was just joking around. I didn’t mean to piss you off,” he said.
Colton started to kiss my neck, his hands running along my side. This was another problem I had with Colton. Every time we were alone, it was like playing Whac-A-Mole with his hands. This wasn’t helped by the fact we didn’t have much to talk about with each other so making out seemed like the only thing to do. Colton did this thing where he would rub his thumb over my nipple rapidly as if he were using a video game controller. I think he thought it was supposed to be sexually exciting. Instead it felt like he was trying to start a fire Boy Scout style. I pushed his hand down.
It wasn’t that I was against sex, or that I was against the idea of sex with Colton in particular (although the nipple-chafing thing didn’t bode well). My official answer was I was waiting for it to be the right time. The truth was I wasn’t sure if there was a right time or place. I knew my birth mom had gotten pregnant in high school. She was only sixteen when I was born. What the adoption information forms didn’t say was if my mom had tried to take precautions. Had she and my dad used a condom? What if she was hyperfertile and that was a trait I’d inherited? For all I knew, my eggs were six times the normal size, making the odds of any sperm missing them nearly nil. Or maybe my birth mom didn’t worry about birth control. Maybe she slept with everyone. What if I was genetically predisposed to being a slut? It was possible I would sleep with Colton and discover I was sex obsessed and wanton. I might not be able to stop. I might start having sex with everyone I met.
Then there was the fact I knew I didn’t love Colton. And I certainly didn’t love how he let all of his friends think that we were going at it all the time. If I was going to finally go all the way, it wasn’t going to be in Ryan Lee’s pantry with Colton smelling like cheap beer. I sighed.
Colton stopped kissing my neck and backed up a step. “Sorry if I’m bothering you.” His voice was annoyed.
“I don’t want to do this.”
He ran his hand through his hair, leaving it sticking up in the back. “You know what, me neither.”
I was about to roll my eyes when I realized he wasn’t talking about making out. “You’re breaking up with me?”
Colton sighed. “At least try and sound upset about it.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
What I loved about this book: It's a little darker than Eileen Cook's usual style, but still contains so much wit and humor. My husband was adopted, so I've been through many conversations about birth parents, and I can see how the subject could cause a slew of complicated emotions, especially during the teen years, when ALL emotions are complicated. Not only that, though. I also really enjoyed how this book explored the topic of deep and real friendships. The situations were never easy, but Avery came out on the other side a much stronger and more enlightened person. I love that.
I wanted to read Year of Mistaken Discoveries because books about friendships that go sideways interests me, because along the way I know that I have drifted apart from friends, and sometimes I know why and others I don't. But the idea if they approached me and then took their own life makes me think--what would or could I do to honor their memory, would I feel guilty and other such questions. On a journey with Avery as the narrator definitely answered the questions from her perspective. I think that she is an emotional teen, but the way that she grieves is so realistic, that she doesn't overdo it for drama as some, and she has an older soul that makes her look at it in a different light that some of her other classmates, or ones that didn't used to be close to Nora. Nora herself is an enigma, because we only get to know her through Avery's memories, and also through Brody. I completely adored him by the way. He was weird in the perfect way, nothing perceivable that is so different but he doesn't exactly fit in the predefined circle of niches in school. He has real conversations, a quick wit, and he is easy going and giving in his friendship. At times, when Avery makes bad decisions she seems so unworthy of his friendship, but aren't we all. We all make mistakes and I would love to have a friend like Brody on my side because he is understanding and forgiving. But he doesn't sugar coat, he says what he's thinking, though with tact, but he doesn't just leave it unsaid. And he is so supportive it makes me want to hug him. Avery's journey to find her birth mom, and hopefully to her, create a senior project to wow Duke, her chosen dream universary at the same time. And at first, she says more than feels that it is a tribute to Nora to get Brody to work with her, but I think that she begins to see the changes in herself, in the friendship with Nora, and about the search and about hope along the way, that she ends up completing something that Nora would be proud of. In this book, we see the many different ways that family can look. Nora and Avery were adopted, and even their adoptive parents look different. Brody lives with his aunt and uncle. When Avery finds her mom she finds lots of things she didn't expect but she takes things that could be painful and ruin her if she let it, and turned it into discovering more about the love her adoptive family, and even her mom had as well as figuring out things about herself. I appreciate the sequences of events and how this story stayed realistic. I think that I was all prepared for a slightly disappointing too easy happily ever after, but was pleasantly surprised by the messy but beautiful way that they figured out how to wrap it up. Still giving Avery a good name and managing to show what she learned along the way without her being a jerk and able to patch things up, and still hope that things could come together for her in some aspects and then already starting to click and we see how they will go in the near future for her. Bottom Line: Avery was a good main character with a lot to discover about herself and I liked her more and more as she realized who she wanted to become.