With writing that sparks off the page, New York Times bestselling author Jodi Lynn Anderson tells a story of saints and floods, secrets and truths, rage and love—and the bravery it takes to bet your whole life on a new kind of hope.
The day the train fell in the lake, Cassie stopped believing in much of anything, despite growing up in a devout Catholic family. Then she set her mind to forgetting the strange boy named Elias who was with her when it happened.
When Elias comes back to town after many years away, Cassie finds herself talked into sneaking out at night to follow him ghost-hunting—though she knows better than to believe they will find any spirits.
Still, the more time she spends with Elias—with his questions, his rebelliousness, his imagination that is so much bigger than the box she has made for herself—the more Cassie thinks that even in a world that seems broken beyond repair, there just may be something worth believing in.
An unmissable novel for fans of Nina LaCour and Jandy Nelson!
Release date: September 20, 2022
Print pages: 256
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Each Night Was Illuminated
Jodi Lynn Anderson
TO PICTURE MANHATTAN IN THE FLOOD, you have to try to picture it like this: the city up to its knees in water, a back of bristled buildings rising in a river that’s joined to the sea. I lie floating, fighting for my breath, and watch it come into view.
It’s morning but not yet light, and even though it seems the city shouldn’t have power, the lights of the skyscrapers glitter. Helicopters buzz around the skyline. I see the tiny dots of rescue boats glowing like beacons, dots of what might be people in the water. They are so small under the vast, approaching sky, the city a confluence of a million chaotic things, cobbled together and humming with life. I probably won’t live to see what has survived.
I bob, catching mouthfuls of water, slipping. I will end up at the bottom of the Hudson River like all the gangsters. I will sleep with the fishes tonight. I want to make a joke about this to someone. The loneliness of knowing that I never will is crushing.
I float on the current and keep my eyes on the lights as if they could stop me from sinking. I think about the few small words that brought me here.
“Close your eyes,” Elias said, doing that up-and-down thing he does, that restless slight bouncing on the balls of his feet that made him look eight and not eighteen. “Think about our secrets. The things only you and me were there for.”
And when I look back to the things only he and I were there for, I realize for the first time how they are all water-bound: a night it snowed in summer, a train in a lake, a boy in a river. I have a mermaid destiny, it seems.
It makes me think about Saint Eia. She, too, had to face the water. Her faith made a leaf grow to fit her and float her home across the sea.
And then the hairs stand up on my neck and my eyelids quiver and I see them, so tiny and distant, up around the spires of the Chrysler Building and soaring above the peak of the Freedom Tower. They flutter in the dying wind, the quieting storm, buffeted by a swirl of clouds so wide they look like they might be battered down out of the air.
I’m imagining them, of course. Still, they circle the sky, steadily doing their work.
I know it’s all in my head. But still, I want so badly to reach them. I don’t believe in them. But the dead have come for me anyway.
I WAS ALWAYS TRYING TO LOSE ELIAS, FROM the moment I met him. I knew him for less than two hours that first time. But it was enough to entangle us for life.
It was a hot, green summer; I was eleven. That afternoon I was standing under the KISS tree with a bunch of other kids my age. We were all circled on our bikes, arguing with Peter Murphy about penises.
The thread of Peter’s argument went something like this: girls couldn’t climb as high as boys, thanks to boys having penises (though the middle of the argument, where the link between penises and tree-scaling ability was established, was fuzzy). And that’s why, Peter claimed, the name of his crush, a girl from our class named Wendy McGowan, was now carved majestically at least eight feet off the ground. (The KISS tree being where you carved the names of people you wanted to kiss; the higher the name the more passionate the love.)
Things like this had been raging all summer, about girls and boys and what we were and weren’t capable of. “Just look at God,” Peter said. “He’s the one in charge and does he have a penis or not?”
Standing astraddle my bike in a bathing suit, sputtering swear words at him half under my breath, I gazed at Peter’s perfect eyelashes. I’d noticed he was always at his most confident when he didn’t know what he was talking about, but I didn’t care. All I could think about was what it would feel like to put my lips on his. Up till then I’d only had a crush on Finn in Star Wars, so it was a new and intoxicating feeling to even think about what kissing might be like.
It was also confusing, since I was planning to be a nun. Deeply religious, I was wearing a crucifix that my mom had left in a drawer, and a guardian angel bracelet I’d bought at the Mary Immaculate Fall Fling, but in my shorts pocket I also kept a rock that Peter had dropped once on the playground. The kids called me the Loch Ness Monster because I was so quiet you barely knew I existed, but I was also dangerous. Ever since my mom had left our family half a year earlier to move to Cleveland, I’d started pinching people who made me mad without ever saying a word, making blood rise up under their skin in welts.
Now I stood staring at the knife Peter dangled before us, having an inner battle, pride and anger making my heart skitter around like a moth. I knew I could climb the tree higher than he could, but not with people watching. And anyway, I knew proving Peter wrong about the penises would turn him against me and he’d never kiss me at all. I wanted to be the kind of girl Peter kissed. So I made a face of agreement that yes, girls could not climb.
That’s when Elias ran past in shorts and a Coke T-shirt.
We studiously ignored him as we had all summer. The rest of us had known each other all our lives, but Elias was only visiting, and there was nothing like a true outsider to make you feel like an insider.
Every day, Elias ran laps of the neighborhood, but I’d never talked with him. He stood out in every possible way: thick wavy black hair that had a mind of its own—sometimes standing left and sometimes right but always strikingly determined as hair went. Brown skin among our sea of freckled pinks and tans, and when he talked, an accent that sounded like stretching out on the beach on a hot day. He was visiting from Australia, which—so far as we knew—was a dry place on the other side of the world with koalas, the world’s deadliest spiders, and, of course, kangaroos.
He was here for the summer visiting his aunt and uncle, the Khans, who ran a bakery called Cookie Caverns one town over. You couldn’t completely ignore him; he was too lean, tall, wiry, confident, his head always cocked like he was listening to some distant radio tuned to something interesting that wasn’t us. Now he nodded to us with little interest, and we side-eyed him until he’d run past. We went on circling the tree and Peter went on pointing triumphantly at Wendy McGowan.
And then a voice boomed down the street summoning one of us for dinner, and we scattered like pool balls. Peter buried the knife in the dirt before leaving, clearly thinking it was a cool gesture. Soon even my sister, Thea, was gone, and it was only me left at the base of the tree, staring up at Wendy McGowan’s name.
Once everyone was out of sight, I knelt in the dirt and dug out the knife. After a moment, in spite of my subpar vagina, I began to climb.
With long, strong legs, I scaled the tree fast; I knew Peter climbed like a sloth in comparison. Up past Wendy McGowan’s name, I took in the view of the river rushing by and for the first time felt afraid. Dear God, watch over me, I thought. Dear Virgin Mary, watch over me. (My life was a litany of prayers—for As, safety, beauty.)
I turned to the tree and bit my lip, grasping the knife to carve. But something froze my hand. It was the idea of leaving a trace of myself that everyone would see.
I hesitated another moment, and then—instead of carving Peter’s name—I kissed the tree, long and hard. I pulled back and looked out at the river and thought about making my way down. When my eyes skimmed the ground again, Elias Jones was watching me.
He was leaning to the left, hand at his side as if he had a cramp, panting from his run, his hair leaning left.
That’s when I lost my balance and my grasp, and slid the rest of the way down, the bark scraping my legs. I landed on my back with a thud at his feet.
I bit my lip and looked down at my legs, a long, thin cut seeping across my knee. We both gazed down at it, tiny and already clotting, but possibly, in my eyes, deadly.
“You okay?” Elias asked, the two words rolling out wide and friendly. I didn’t meet his eyes.
“Yep.” I hopped up and started walking home.
Elias, not one to be easily deterred, kept up a few feet behind me.
“You could pass out from blood loss,” he said. “I’ll make sure you get home without dying.”
Elias kept following me. He didn’t seem to mind absolute rejection. And then an idea seemed to come to him; maybe he spotted my crucifix. “There’s a spot on Cub Mountain where you can see heaven,” he said.
That got my attention. I looked back at him. His face was creased with genuine worry, mixed with the curiosity of a boy who’d just seen a girl kiss a tree.
“Where?” I asked.
Our town was in full splendor that afternoon, the low hills green and lush, the old stone houses of downtown gray against the trees as we climbed. From up high we could see spires of my school’s church, the cluster of brick buildings nestled among the woods. I wanted to take it all in as we walked, but Elias wouldn’t stop talking.
“That’s porcelain berry; it’s invasive, did you know that? Did you know vines travel, just differently than people do? Did you know they put out their little feelers and pat around like mimes before they climb? At the farm my dad works we have this tree called a boab”—the vowels stretched out, bowaab—“that looks like a joke. It used to freak me out because I thought it was from another planet. My aunty loves them; she has bad hair. She has this huge mole on her cheek; I feel bad for her because she hates it; I guess I hate it for her too. I could get a boab seed and mail it to you, even though it’s probably against the law . . . just give me your address. You don’t talk much,” he said. To which I did not respond. Elias went on.
I listened but pretended not to. Elias liked nature, a lot. And movies. He loved to run. (He seemed to like everything except his aunt’s mole.) His grandmother was from Bangladesh, but she fell madly in love with and married an Australian farmer when she immigrated. His dad was mostly a farmer but had done all sorts of jobs over the years: fruit picking, plucking pearls from oysters. As he chattered on, I watched the houses grow smaller below us and felt myself getting farther and farther from home, which was thrilling but also scary. Since my mom had left, I’d gotten cautious. I didn’t know why then, but I think when your own mom leaves you in the dust, you start watching the world closer to see what else might surprise you. Not that my mom had ever been a full-on mom anyway: her leaving had only confirmed she’d been half gone all along.
Finally, out of breath, Elias announced, “We’re here.”
We perched on a boulder at the top of the mountain. From this spot you could see the reservoir that doubled as our town’s only lake, the bridge that cut across it for passing trains, the Green Valley River below it, and the giant old-fashioned hotel—the Rose—that had perched along its craggy bank almost since the town was born. A train was moving slowly in Green Valley’s direction, like a silver caterpillar inching its way toward Reservoir Bridge. It was a lucky sighting; the line had fallen out of use because of quicker routes. ...
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