Sage Murdock has always felt different from the other students at his high school in Boston, and being bullied and ostracized has become a way of life he accepts…but at the same time, he worries that the whispers are true and that he is, in fact, mentally abnormal.
After a bullying incident at school provokes Sage to violence, his mother and stepfather tell him he is being sent to live with his biological father on Gray Island, a small weather-beaten island off the coast of Maine. There, Sage encounters many strange people who all seem to be hiding something.
A single bright spot is Cadi, a free-spirited girl about his own age. Unfortunately, Cadi is a member of a strange cult-like group that lives on the opposite side of Gray Island. Before long, Sage learns that his relationship with Cadi must end or the consequences will be catastrophic.
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“I was out walking,” she answered, to his relief. She shook her head, sending a cascade of glistening raindrops from her honey-brown hair. The droplets seemed to descend in slow motion, twinkling like stardust.
“In the rain?”
“It isn’t raining anymore. Besides, I don’t mind. Rain is part of nature. We’re part of nature. It all fits, right?”
“I guess. I prefer to stay dry.”
“Oh? I can’t help but notice you’re out here, same as I am.”
“I…uh, yeah. I couldn’t sleep. And then I spotted you from my window.” He paused, fumbling for his next few words. “I…um…I saw Ivar tonight.”
Her rosy lips thinned. “I heard. I’m sorry he tormented you.”
Sage shrugged self-consciously. “It’s a public place. I guess he had a right to be there, same as I did.”
“Stuff like that happens because we have only one restaurant on the island. I know he goes there with his friends once in a while.”
“Do you ever go with him?” Sage asked hopefully.
“No. My parents won’t let me go anywhere that serves alcohol… besides, that place is a little noisy for my tastes.”
“I know what you mean.”
They fell into step together as they trudged through the sodden forest. The water dripping on her skin didn’t seem to bother her at all, nor did the chilly air. She was used to it, Sage supposed. Maybe he’d get used to it one day, too. But, no—he had no idea of staying that long.
Cadi did make it tempting to stick around a while, though.
“What’s the deal with you and Ivar, anyway?” he finally asked, unable to keep a note of strain from his voice. “You said once he wasn’t your boyfriend. But is he…I mean, are you and he…?”
She didn’t wait for him to finish. “I don’t like labels, personally. Do you?”
“I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to tell what’s inside the can without one.”
She laughed, a genuine and easy sort of laugh that banished the cold from his body. He smiled too. They walked on, side by side, not touching but enjoying the moment. At least, he was. And she seemed happy enough to stay beside him.
“I’m glad you have a sense of humor,” Cadi said. “Not many people around here do.”
“The weather makes them that way, maybe. No sun. I’ve been feeling kind of strange myself.”
“Not because of the weather. Haven’t you figured that out yet?” She stopped and looked at him intently.
“No. What do you mean? Figured what out?”
“Sage…you don’t know your father very well, do you? Or much about his life here?”
“Nah. Why would I? My parents split up and he took off when I was less than a year old. I haven’t had much contact with him since. Then, all of a sudden, my mother got this bright idea to send me out here to live with him.”
“She didn’t tell you why?” Cadi seemed genuinely concerned.
“Not in so many words. I figure she couldn’t handle me anymore. You know, hormones, bad temper, the usual teenage stuff.”
“No, Sage. It wasn’t the normal teenaged stuff. Trust me.”
“What do you mean?” He scowled and started walking again. “Are you trying to tell me my father is a serial killer or something?”
“No! No, Jeremy’s all right. I admit, my parents aren’t crazy about him, but they live on the other side of the island, so that’s to be expected.”
Sage scowled. “Don’t you come over to this side for school?”
“No. We have private lessons in the compound. Ivar’s father, Laurent—he’s sort of like our governor—appoints teachers for us. Sometimes he lectures to us, too. We can study at our own pace. I kind of like it that way. I don’t think I’d do well in your kind of school.”
“You’re kidding. That sounds like something from another century!”
“No, it’s modern enough. We have electricity and everything.” Her sardonic laugh ended in a sigh. “There’s a lot about this place you don’t understand, Sage.”
“I’ll be the first to admit that.”
She took his hand. He squeezed back. “You’ll find out a lot, soon enough. Too soon, and I hate thinking about it. I want to remember you like this: just a normal guy from Boston, taking an innocent walk with me through the forest. I wish it could stay like that.”
“What are you talking about? What do you mean? I’m lost.” He looked around at the dark trees that hemmed them in on all sides. Nothing looked familiar. “In more ways than one.”
“Don’t worry. You won’t be for long. Don’t try to answer these questions too soon. Let some things be a mystery. Once you look for answers, everything gets complicated.”
“I guess so. But I’d still like to know the truth.”
“And I like mystery. Maybe we’re not so compatible after all.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Then let some things stay unsaid. Don’t ask me things. Let’s just spend time together and enjoy it.”
“Okay. If that’s what you want.”
“I do, and I want things between us to be special. Like magic.” She grasped his hand, pulling him to a stop. Then she leaned up and kissed him on the mouth. Startled, Sage responded awkwardly at first. Despite what he’d seen in movies and TV shows, he wasn’t quite sure which way to tilt his lips, and at one point his front teeth knocked against hers. When she didn’t move away, though, he decided to let instinct guide him. That worked out better, as their mouths began to slide together in a balanced and highly enjoyable rhythm.
Magic was an understatement.
Guest Post by J. C. Aster
YA THEN AND NOW
Every time I look through the shelves in the YA section of the local big-box bookstore, one thought goes through my mind—“if only they’d had so many cool books like this when I was a kid!” Don’t get me wrong, I read all the time, but almost all of my choices were grown-up books (some of which were so “advanced” that they horrified my teachers and the local librarians).I just couldn’t get into the “age appropriate” stuff they were farming out to us in school, and the mid-seventies was the age of the blockbuster, with books like Roots, Shogun, Jaws, and The Thorn Birds dominating the bestseller lists. I read all of those and more between the ages of ten and fifteen. My parents didn’t object in the least. They were avid readers, too, or maybe it was just that those huge books kept me quiet for long stretches of time and gave them some peace.
It wasn’t until I was older that I began to make sense of my aversion to the typical classroom fare. It occurred to me that most of the books I was forced to read and really disliked were all books that had a decidedly male perspective—The Chocolate War, The Old Man and the Sea, 1984, and even Great Expectations. Don’t even get me started on the ones where some boy has to prove his manhood by killing a pet or some innocent animal, like Old Yeller, The Yearling, The Red Pony, and A Day No Pigs Would Die. It got to the point where I wouldn’t go near a book with an animal on the cover for fear of what I would find (a policy I maintain to this day, and I’m not the only one—my friend Rachael still has nightmares about Watership Down and avoids covers showing rabbits).
On the other hand, when I did read children’s lit back then, I would find myself captivated by the Little House series, biographies of Helen Keller, and Island of the Blue Dolphins. What made the difference, I realize now, was that all of these stories were about the issues that matter to girls—among them relationships with family, forming a strong sense of identity, and last but not least, compassion for animals and respect for life.
Today, when I look at the new books available for teens and younger readers, I am delighted to see gender and racial diversity and a more humane perspective represented in many titles. I hear that the proliferation of titles about female protagonists came about because young men and boys don’t buy books at anywhere near the rate girls do. But when you look at what were once considered typical “male” stories, is it any wonder? I can’t help but think the “old standbys,” which are still taught in many schools, are responsible for turning a lot of young males off from reading. Maybe they would rather cuddle an animal than pick up a shotgun, too. I, for one, think that’s a good thing.
Maybe it’s time for some new paradigms in books meant for boys. I’d be interested to hear what others think!
About the Author:
J.C. Aster is a teacher and freelance writer who is a huge fan of young adult fiction, especially stories with a paranormal twist (they sure didn’t have cool books like that when she was a kid or she might have had a more exciting childhood!). GRAY ISLAND started as a National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) project and quickly took on a life of its own. She is currently at work on new projects and hopes to visit the magical shores of Gray Island again soon.
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