Lives are in the balance in bestselling author Caroline B. Cooney’s newest young adult thriller, Three Black Swans.
Missy and her cousin Claire are best friends who finish each other’s sentences and practically read each other’s minds. It’s an eerie connection—so eerie that Missy has questions she wants to put to her parents. But she’s afraid to ask. So when Missy hears an expert discussing newborn babies on the radio, it makes her wonder about her family.
Missy just can’t let go of those nagging questions, and decides to use a school project about scientific hoaxes to try to uncover the answers. She enlists Claire to help. As part of the project the girls perform a dramatic scene that is captured on video at school. After the video is posted on YouTube, Missy and Claire realize that they’ve opened Pandora’s box and much more than they ever imagined has come out. Not only are their identities called into question, but so is the future of everyone involved.
In this riveting, heartrending story by thriller author Caroline B. Cooney, the truth changes the lives of three families—as the bonds of blood must withstand the strains of long-hidden secrets that are at last revealed.
Release date: August 24, 2010
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Print pages: 288
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Three Black Swans
Caroline B. Cooney
Missy Vianello and her mother were running errands. Mom was in line at the post office sending a package while Missy walked down the block to the dry cleaner's. The front door was propped open. Missy entered a large hot space, full of clothing, empty of people. The old-fashioned floor fans rotated slowly on their heavy metal posts. A radio sat on a sorting table. It was small and black with a long cord, and probablyas old as her mother. It was tuned to a talk station. A doctor was chatting excitedly about babies. Missy did not care for talk shows. Politics and angry raised voices did not attract her. Gentler topics--gardens to visit; diseases to worry about--offered nothing to a sixteen-year-old. On the counter sat a small bell for customers to ring. Like the swirling fans, it was something from a schoolroom in another century. Missy had the odd sensation that she had fallen out of her own time. She tapped the little bell, which made a pleasingmusical ding. Missy was mildly impatient. Usually the couple who ran the shop were so attentive. The interview on the radio station continued. At first, the doctor's remarks stayed outside Missy, hanging there like the clean clothes dangling from ceiling racks. And then the meaning of his statements penetrated Missy's mind. If there had not been acounter separating customers from the workspace, Missy would have snatched up the radio and pressed it to her ear. She who had never given a thought to babies, who wasn't interested in babysitting, who hadn't even met any infants lately--she was stunned by what the doctor was saying. The fact that had kept Missy safe, the fact that had allowed Missy to laugh at her crazy guesses for the last few years--was that fact a lie? This doctor is an expert, she thought. He knows what he's talking about. Or does he? Can I trust him? A clerk she did not recognize hurried over, smiling, saying how are you, good to see you, but Missy, transfixed by the talk station, did not answer. The clerk took the small white ticket from Missy's hand and went to find the clothes. The interview ended. A new voice discussed weather. Missy found herself holding a stack of neatly folded, plastic-wrapped sweaters. She handed over the cash and even managed to say thank you. She left the dry cleaner's. On the sidewalk, she could no longerhear the radio, but the words had come outside with her. Missy Vianello had not fallen out of her own time. She had fallen out of her life.
The following day
Missy had not slept well. Every time she lay down, some internal engine propelled her back off the bed. Half the night, she stood in the dark, while the facts of her life sorted themselves like a pack of cards being dealt. In school, though, she was surprisinglyalert. The lines from the radio vibrated in her head, and yet she was able to participate in class and do her work. She felt weirdly multiplied by the new information. By the time it was third period and biology class had begun, Missy's energy was fading. Mrs. Stancil discussed fake science, describing a hoax in which the perpetrators aged bits of human skull and jawbone, buried the bone fragments and then arranged forthem to be dug up. They convinced museums and anthropologists that these were the remains of an ancient humanoid. They called the "fossils" Piltdown Man and the world was enthralled by what seemed to be its new ancestor. Maybe what Missy had heard on the radio was also pretend science. Maybe her new "fact" was as silly as Piltdown Man. Mrs. Stancil adored classroom discussion. She was delighted when Graham argued with her. "I love archaeology," he said. "I read about it all the time, and that hoax wouldn't work, Mrs. Stancil. You'd test the bones for fluorine, uranium and nitrogen. You'dknow immediately how old those bones were." "Now you would. But this was 1912," explained Mrs. Stancil. "Those testing techniques were unknown." The class had only six weeks' experience with Mrs. Stancil, but they knew already that she preferred projects that were "outside the box," and quickly tired of projects that were "in the box." In Missy Vianello's mind, a hoax blossomed. She could see the entire hoax from start to finish. It would be cruel. But it would work. She said softly, "What hoax would you do, Mrs. Stancil, if you could pull one off? A science teacher would be so goodat hoaxes. A scientist like you could offer a string of lies, but package them so believably that the public would accept your story as fact." The kids were on board immediately. "Let's do a class hoax," said Anthony. "We could pretend that a lamb bone from somebody's dinner roast is the shin of a pterodactyl." "And get very scientific about it," agreed Kelsey. "Buttress our claim with bone details, like porosity, and present the measurements of real pterodactyls, or pretend to, and establish that we have a match." "I think the hoax should be more trendy," said Carlotta. "How about a fake alternative fuel for cars? We could print pages of chemical testing we haven't done, and convince people we can make fuel from, say, pond scum." Mrs. Stancil was excited. "People! This is truly outside the box. If we format our project so that our research provides us with a deep understanding of the truth, it will be a fun approach. I like Carlotta's idea. Corn is being used for ethanol, so it'snot outrageous that we too could create a vegetable fuel." "That's not my kind of hoax," said Zach. "I'd rather have a murder victim and convince people it was suicide and get away with murder." If Missy shouted her own idea out loud, the class would be impressed. But a hoax worked only when nobody suspected. Nobody, thought Missy, already feeling guilty; already aware that her hoax might destroy instead of reveal. "I wouldn't actually have a corpse," explained Zach. "I'd just pretend to. I've seen at least a thousand TV shows with this plot, so I've pre-researched and I'm ready to go." "Let's do hoaxes in groups," said Emily. "People who like bones can be in the bone group, people who like murder can be in the corpse group and people who like fuel can be in the pond scum group." In science, what mattered was truth. But in life? wondered Missy. What mattered most in life?
The same Wednesday
Claire Linnehan was doing her homework. Only six weeks into the school year, Claire loved all classes and all study. The textbooks still felt like treasures in which fascinating topics were waiting. Usually this feeling lasted through Thanksgiving. By December, when it got cold and dark earlyin the day, and she began hoping for snow and ski weekends and wanted to shop for more sweaters, the books felt used up; Claire would have mined the vein of gold that had been so promising and she'd be ready to move on. Her cell phone rang. The ring tone was her cousin Missy's, but Claire would have known who was calling anyway. She and Missy could practically read each other's minds. "Hi, Missy." Claire settled in for a long talk. She and her cousin texted on and offall day long, but also had to hear each other's voices at least once every twenty-four hours. "Hey, Clairedy." Missy had a very chipper voice; very upbeat. People said that Missy and Claire sounded exactly alike, but Claire disagreed. Her own voice was slower and deeper. "Listen," said Missy. "I need an identical twin." Claire laughed. "Even on the Internet, Missy, there aren't that many identical twins being auctioned off." "In biology," said Missy, "we've been assigned to pull off a hoax." "Like filming Bigfoot? Or finding Paleolithic writing on a stone in your backyard?" "Exactly. Here's what I've decided for my hoax. Out of nowhere, like an asteroid in the night falling through my roof, I will suddenly meet my long-lost, totally unknown identical twin. Everybody will believe my hoax because I will bring my identical twinto school." Claire was giggling now. She never giggled with anybody but Missy. "When I took biology," said Claire, who was a junior while Missy was a sophomore, "we learned facts. A hoax assignment is pointless. Guess what, Missy? This morning when Aiden and I happenedto enter the building at the same time, he said hi to me. And then he smiled." Arriving at high school at the same moment as Aiden had not been accidental. Missy had been part of the planning. Discussion of boys was a major portion of the cousins' nightly talks. "Nobody cares about Aiden right now," said Missy. "We care only about my assignment. You have to be my identical twin, Claire." There was a strong family resemblance between the cousins. When they were little, maybe seven or eight, Missy and Claire used to dress the same, wear their hair the same and loudly pretend to understand each other's thoughts and finish each other's sentences."We're twins!" they would lie to anybody paying attention. People didn't fall for it, because Claire was taller and heavier, but the girls thought they had a great act. Their parents tired of it and put an end to the fake twin thing. Even now Claire's mothercould get bent out of shape if she perceived Claire copying Missy or the other way around. "There is a strong family resemblance," agreed Claire. "But I'd need plastic surgery to be a perfect match, even if I wanted to look exactly like you. I think you should have the surgery and look exactly like me instead." "There isn't time for surgery," said Missy. "The project is due." A phone call with Missy was relaxing. Claire wouldn't even know she was tense until she heard Missy's voice, felt her body soften. She could get so relaxed that if she was sprawled on the bed, she'd fall asleep, and Missy would yell into the phone, "Hey!Clairedy! Wake up!" "Identical twins have to be identical," Claire pointed out. "There's the problem that I am a year ahead of you in school, an A student, in six activities, on two teams, and planning to be a doctor, whereas you--I'm sorry to put this so bluntly--are anaverage student with no activities except communicating and shopping." They laughed. In fact the cousins were pretty similar. But with one cousin a sophomore and the other a junior, and living in different states with different curricula and exams--Missy was in Connecticut while Claire was in New York--comparisons were iffy. "You can dumb down, Claire," said Missy cheerfully. "Here's my plan. I go to school tomorrow sobbing and trembling and tell everybody that my missing identical twin has just shown up." "Meaning me? Finding me makes you cry?" "Okay, I'll clap my hands and dance in little circles." "Better," said Claire. "Now, where will you do this? Biology lab?" "No, no. Our school--being superior to yours--has an in-house television broadcast. I happen to be friends with the morning announcer. His sister is in my Language Arts class and I was over at their house once. I'll call Rick and regale him with my astonishingnews, and arrange for him to interview me." "They do interviews during your school announcements?" "They never have before, but they've never had a long-lost identical twin before. I can talk Rick into it. It's quite a story, you know. He'll be all over it. The thing is, Claire, I can't use photographs of my identical twin. Anybody can show up withtwo photographs of herself and pretend that the picture on the left is her twin. You will be my living, breathing proof that I have an identical twin. You and I are going to have an identical twin debut." With Missy, either in person or on the phone, Claire felt safer. The sensation was always present, and Claire could never quite get hold of it. Safer from what? But now the safe feeling drained away. "I don't think so, Missy." Missy was not deflected, which was typical; she was a pit bull. "I saw a TV show once," said Missy, "where they found identical twins who had been separated at birth. The show brought them together for the first time when they were in their thirties. Canyou imagine? These two men showed up wearing the same shirt, and here they had the same bowling score, and had gotten married the same month of the same year, and had even married women with the same first name. But they didn't know the other one existed. That'show bonded identical twins are." Claire could not work up any interest in thirty-year-old men with identical bowling scores. "Missy, get real. I can't show up at your school in the morning. I have school of my own. I live twenty miles away. And I don't drive." Her parents had finallyagreed that next spring she could get her driver's license. Sometimes Claire couldn't eat or read from the excitement of picturing herself in her own car, driving to her own destinations, the little plastic ID window in her wallet holding a license and a creditcard for gas in the opposite slot. But the thought of driving did not excite her this time. She sat down on her bed and pulled her feet up, as if nightmares under the bed might yank her down by the ankles. Missy, who usually picked up any mood of her cousin's over the phone, did not notice anything. "Your father can drive you, Claire. Uncle Phil is always obedient to your wishes. School announcements are nice and early. They're over by seven fifty-five sothe first class can start at eight, but since your school starts at eight-thirty, you'll almost be back in time. Tell Uncle Phil I need help for one minute on a biology project. Come on, Clairedy. How many people get to be identical twins for a day?" Becoming an identical twin sounded like quite a step to Claire. Like marriage, only more so. What was an identical twin, anyway? At conception, it was a single, which then split in two. At birth, the babies had separate bodies and souls, yet they had once shared the exact same body. Or egg; Claire was a little vague. "Do fraternal twins instead,"she suggested. "If your hoax is about fraternal twins, you can use anybody. Remember how in your kindergarten there were two sets of fraternal twins and nobody even believed they were related?" "It wouldn't be fun with just anybody, Clairedy. It'll only be fun with you. And how exciting are fraternal twins, anyhow? People daydream of being identical twins." "Speak for yourself," said Claire, whose daydreams involved Aiden, a wide assortment of other cute boys, and of course cars. "Anyway, there are flaws in your plan. What about your friends who know me? I'm always at your sleepovers and I've gone to lotsof school games with you." "That was middle school. That was years ago. I haven't given a party in ages. Literally a thousand kids at my high school have never seen or heard of you. And back when they were coming to my parties, you and I didn't look this much alike."
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