Looking for something new to read? Prep your pre-order buttons after you peek at this excerpt of The Thing With Feathers, the new novel from McCall Hoyle.
The Thing With Feathers is the story of sixteen-year-old Emilie Day, a girl with epilepsy leaving her safe, homeschooled life for high school on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. For the first time, Emilie must navigate classes, cliques, and crushes, all while keeping her epilepsy a secret.
The Thing With Feathers releases on September 5. Take a peek at an excerpt below!
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
My mother lost her mind today, and I’m going to prison.
Some people call it North Ridge High School, but believe me: it’s this girl’s worst punishment. I drive past it every week on the way home from my counselor’s office. Sparkly girls with sun-kissed cheeks spill out its front doors. Boys with shaggy haircuts surround them, toting lacrosse sticks, backpacks, and the occasional band instrument. They look comfortable in their skin, like they walked off the cover of Seventeen or like they’re ready to burst into a peppy musical number at a moment’s notice.
“Emilie.” My mother’s voice interrupts my thoughts, and I jump, cracking my knuckles on the passenger-side window. Shaking off the pain in my hand, I glance over at her in the driver’s seat without speaking. Her white fists clench the steering wheel. A muscle twitches in her jaw. Good. She’s on edge. She should be. She and Dr. Wellesley are ruining my life.
“Honey, please try to keep an open mind.” She studies my face. “Public school won’t be that bad.”
“The light’s green.” I point to the stoplight swaying in the breeze. Someone behind us honks, and we lurch forward. I’ve lived in Crystal Cove on the coast of North Carolina for sixteen years, and I’m still not used to sharing my home with tourists like the one behind us in the expensive convertible. Apparently, neither is my mother.
Mom readjusts her death grip, exhaling through gritted teeth. “And stop biting your fingernails. They look awful.”
Like I care about appearances when my life is crumbling around me. I chew another hangnail, wincing when a drop of blood forms at the cuticle. When Hitch paws at my seat, I unbuckle and crawl into the backseat with him. His tail swishes the sandy floor mat.
“You’re going to cause an accident,” Mom snaps.
Biting my tongue, I run a hand through the thick fur behind Hitch’s right ear. My shoulders relax a tiny bit. When he rests his blocky head on my thigh and flashes his toothy golden retriever grin, a smile tugs at the corner of my mouth.
“Dr. Wellesley has your best interests at heart. He doesn’t think homeschooling is meeting your social and emotional needs.” She sounds like a recording, repeating word for word what my therapist said less than an hour ago.
“I don’t care what he thinks.” I enunciate each word, careful not to let the emotions rising in my throat escape my mouth. I don’t mean to be difficult. Really. It’s just sometimes I feel like I’m about to explode. And with no dad, no siblings, no real friends, there’s no one else to explode on.
Hitch raises concerned eyes to my face while I rub tiny circles on his floppy ear. “I’m not going to North Ridge next Monday.” My voice cracks on the last word. So much for sounding tough.
“Yes, you are.” Mom pauses — the scary pause, reserved for when she’s reached emotional meltdown. Now she’ll either cry to make me feel guilty or switch to her serious-mom voice to pressure me into doing whatever she wants.
“Emilie, please. I only want what’s best for you.” Her eyes glisten in the rearview mirror.
Here we go. All aboard for a ride on the guilt train.
Seventy-two hours’ worth of crying, bargaining, and promising I’ll go to Harvard accomplish almost nothing. All I can do is convince Mom to send me to school on a trial basis—three months and then we’ll reevaluate. In three months she’ll probably just force me to go back, so it’s not exactly a win. But it’s a speck of light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll endure ninety days without forming attachments and prove to her that my social and emotional needs are just fine. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
We’re back in the Honda this morning, heading south on the beach road. I study the teetering cottages to my left. Their lives are like mine. They’ve survived countless hurricanes, but no one knows if they’ll survive the next big storm. They could make it another hundred years, hunched like gnomes on the dunes with nothing to protect them but sea oats, or the next big wind gust could wash them into oblivion.
But unlike the cedar-sided shacks, I’ve got a mom to protect me. A mom who cares a little too much about my well-being sometimes. A mom who’s sending me to school today for my own good. No matter what.
“It’s going to be all right.” She nods and tucks a wisp of hair behind her ear with a shaky hand. “And we agreed to give it three months.”
Easy for her to say. She’s not the one with epilepsy. She’s not the one with grand mal seizures. She’s not the one at risk of convulsing in front of a bunch of strangers, of puking all over herself with her eyes rolled back in her head . . . or worse. For me, three months might as well be a lifetime sentence in Alcatraz.
I don’t answer. She squeezes my arm as I stare out the passenger window.
Less than twenty minutes later, she hugs me and abandons me in the guidance office. I’m like half of Hansel and Gretel, except I forgot to drop the bread crumbs and there’s no way out. The hum of air from the ceiling vent is the only distraction in the dimly lit room as I wait for the secretary to return with a student ambassador to show me around the building.
As I pick at the cuticle on my index finger, the door bangs open. A boy with blue eyes and dimples barges in.
“You must be Emilie.” He scoops my backpack off the floor, slinging it over his shoulder as he offers me his hand. “Chatham York, at your service.”
His eyes and T-shirt match the color of the Atlantic Ocean on a cloudless day. He’s tall — really tall. I’m eye level with his chest and a shirt that reads Keep Calm. We’ve got this. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of what I feel.
“So what brings you to the Ridge?” His hand brushes my arm as he reaches for the door.
“I, uh… My voice trails off. I blink, reminding myself he’s just a boy and I have bigger concerns today than melting into a puddle of goo at the feet of the first cute guy to cross my path.
He flashes me a bright smile that could be totally genuine or totally practiced. I have no idea which. The counselors probably chose him to give tours specifically because of that smile. If this were one of my favorite movies, there’d be clues to his intentions in the sound effects or the lighting or the background music or something. Here, I’m on my own — a fish out of water with no clues to guide me.