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Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea
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Hazel Bly used to have the perfect family. But when a kayaking trip goes horribly wrong, Mum is suddenly gone forever and Hazel is left with a jagged scar on her face. After Mum's death, Hazel, her other mother, Mama, and her little sister Peach needed a fresh start. So for the last two years, the Bly girls have lived all over the country. They travel from town to town, never settling anywhere for more than a few months or so.
But when the family comes to the town of Rose Harbor, Maine, a small fog-draped beach town full of roses and rocks, Hazel senses a wildness to it that feels like magic. And when Mama runs into an old childhood friend Claire, suddenly Hazel's tight-knit world is infiltrated. To make it worse, she has a daughter Hazel's age, Lemon, who can't stop rambling on and on about the Rose Maid, a local myth a hundred and fifty years old about how a local girl was so heartbroken she turned into a mermaid.
Soon, Hazel finds herself just as obsessed with the Rose Maid as Lemon is—because what if magic were real? What if grief really could change you so much, you weren't even yourself anymore? What if instead you emerged from the darkness stronger than before?
I peer out the window at death.
Well, not death. But an ocean a few hundred feet from the front door of our new house might as well be death, all that fog-draped water just waiting for a fresh swimmer to devour, which would be exactly my luck. And don’t even get me started on water beasts, all manner of fascinating yet deadly sharks and jellyfish and god-knows-what-else lurking in the deep. After two years of traveling around the country with Mama and Peach, keeping a keen eye all the while, I’d say I’ve probably saved us from at least a few catastrophes, dozens of minor injuries, and myriad everyday annoyances and mishaps. I’m not about to let this pesky Atlantic Ocean win now.
That’s easier said than done, though.
Take my sister, Peach. Her real name is Penelope, but when she was born, according to my mothers, I was very into peaches. I ate them constantly, insisted on peach-patterned sheets for my bed, and let’s just say a seven-year-old should never be allowed to paint her own nails. I looked like I’d dipped my fingertips in peach jelly. My moms left the polish on for a whole week because they thought it was just about the cutest thing they’d ever seen.
When Penelope was born, I kept calling her Peach, which I guess my moms thought was also pretty cute, because it ended up sticking, and it’s the perfect name for my sister. A tender little fruit if ever there was one, the kid is constantly covered in bumps and bruises, despite my best efforts to keep her safe. I hate to think what disastrous circumstances she’d tumble into if it wasn’t for me. Of course, Mama looks out for her too, but Mama needs plenty of looking after herself, which means on any given day, I’ve got a full schedule of maintaining order and sniffing out potential dangers.
And now here’s this ocean, looking like a giant black hole under the cloudy sky, ready to swallow us all in one gulp.
“Hazel, let’s go!” Peach yells from the cottage’s open front door. She’s five and her brown curls are a tangle around her face. I’ve begged Mama to cut her hair—less chance of accidental middle-of-the-night strangulation that way—but Peach refuses to let her. She loves that she and Mama have the same hair, loves that they match.
I keep my own wavy white-blond hair cut to my shoulders, just like Mum used to wear it, while Peach and Mama have dark, curly hair that cascades down their backs. They have the same eyes, too, chocolate brown, but mine are bright blue like Mum’s. Back when she was alive, Mum used to joke how the four of us went together perfectly, two and two.
Now it’s two and one, with me as the odd one out.
“I’m coming, Peach, one second.” I hop down from the top bunk in the tiny bedroom Peach and I will share, where I’ve been glued to my phone for the past hour, poring over maps and tourist sites for Rose Harbor in southern Maine, which will be our home for the summer. The town is small, with wild roses growing all over the hills and dunes and an old myth about a mermaid in the harbor, in honor of whom they hold some big festival in July. And let’s not forget the very angry-looking ocean full of ropelike seaweed and claw-clicking lobsters and bacteria galore.
Two days ago, while we packed up our rented apartment in Ohio, I asked Mama if we were going home. Back to California, where we lived with Mum, where we were a family. We haven’t been there in two years, not since Mum died, and after our lease runs out in each new town, I hope.
I tell myself this town will be the last.
We’ll be home in a matter of days.
But we never are. Mama just says we’re not ready yet, which makes no sense to me. I’ve never not been ready. I hate traveling around, hate the rented apartments and houses full of god-knows-what left over from god-knows-who. How is a duplex in Colorado better than our home, our yellow house on Camelia Street, Berkeley bustling just down the sidewalk? Mama will never give me a straight answer, and I can’t bear to beg her, to do anything more than nod.
It’s my fault we’re like this, after all. It’s my fault we’re three and not four.
So here we are now, teetering in a tiny cottage on the edge of the world. When it was clear we weren’t heading home but toward the sea, my stomach wove itself into a tight knot and hasn’t unwound since. Peach has learned to swim, but our family knows better than anyone that even the greatest swimmers can drown in a matter of minutes, especially in oceans or rivers where rocks and currents are like hidden water demons.
So I argued against Rose Harbor. Or rather, I told Mama I didn’t think it was a good idea. Mama and I don’t argue. We barely anything at all these days. And, as usual, Mama ignored my warnings and said Peach would be fine and that I used to love the ocean.
That’s all she said.
You used to love the ocean, Hazel.
Then she sighed, like my used to was the most horrible thing that could’ve happened. No mention of why, no mention of Mum at all.
I can’t remember the last time she even said Mum’s name.
Now, from under the bottom bunk I pull out my heavy forest-green trunk, right next to Peach’s smaller yellow one. I’ve already unpacked most of my clothes, slipping them into the top half of the plain wooden dresser that came with the furnished cottage, but some stuff I keep in my trunk all the time. I unzip my navy-blue fanny pack—which I’ve appropriately dubbed my Safety Pack—and start reloading it with supplies from my trunk, Band-Aids, Neosporin, sunblock, a travel pack of Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, bug spray, hair elastics, tweezers, a mini-flashlight, an extra phone charger, a couple of granola bars, and a twenty-dollar bill.
“Hazel!” Peach calls, her voice traveling through the short hallway. “Nicholas and I are ready to explore.”
I push my trunk back under the bed and walk into the living room. Peach is standing at the open front door, salty sea wind in her hair, with Nicholas, her stuffed purple narwhal, perched on her shoulder. He’s the last thing Mum ever gave her, the morning Mum and I left for our kayaking trip on the Mendocino coast. Peach was three, so there was no way she could go kayaking, but she still pouted that she had to stay home. Mum brought home Nicholas from the local toy store to soften the blow, and Peach carries that thing everywhere now, clinging to it like it’s Mum herself. Nicholas has turned ratty, loved so hard and so often the poor whale’s fur has gone pilly and one of his beady black eyes is missing.
I give Peach a once-over, checking to make sure she’s all buttoned and zipped and shoed.
“Peach, get some shoes on.”
“But we’re going to the beach!”
“So?” I look down at my snugly tied sneakers.
“Sooo,” my sister drawls, rolling her eyes at me. This is a new thing. The rolling of the eyes. “I want to wiggle my toes in the sand.”
I press my lips together and step out onto the front porch. The late afternoon is dreary and overcast, the clouds above swirling like they’re getting ready to release some great fury. The ocean below, darkly blue and deep, foams like a wild animal. Even like that it’s pretty, but pretty can be deceiving. Just look at a jellyfish.
There are a few steps from our porch leading down to a pebbly path, no doubt full of all manner of things to cut up tender bare feet. Still, despite the dangers all around, I have to admit the view is nice. Our house—dubbed Sea Rose Cottage by a wooden sign hanging next to the bright blue front door—is really old and small, with creamy stone and fresh white trim. All around us are hills and rocky paths, trees that are probably a brilliant green on a sunny day. And the cottage is pretty secluded—the nearest neighbor is a little seafoam-green house about a quarter mile down the beach that I can just barely see.
I breathe in the salty air and hook my thumbs through my Safety Pack, telling myself everything will be fine. I’ve gotten us this far. In two whole years, there’ve been no broken bones, no long hospital stays, nothing a Band-Aid and some antibacterial cream couldn’t fix. Peach bounces around me, babbling about the sand and surf and how she wants to really experience it, except she says experiment, and it’s so cute I can’t even correct her.
“Hazel,” Mama calls from the kitchen, where she’s been sifting through the dishes the landlord provided with the house, figuring out what needs cleaning. I poke my head back through the door to see her standing by the big farmhouse sink, drying one of the Mason jars we’re supposed to use for drinking glasses, using a striped hand towel. “Let your sister have some fun on the beach, okay? She’s not going to swim. It’s still too cold this early in June.”
I blow out a breath through puffed cheeks. “At least make her wear some flip-flops to get down there.”
Mama smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. It never does these days. Not when it concerns me, at least. I guess I can’t blame her, though.
“Fair enough,” she says. “Hear that, Peach Fuzz?”
Peach releases a labored sigh. “Fine.” Then she stomps back to our room and quickly emerges holding her bright green flip-flops. She walks right past me and out the door.
“On your feet, Peach.”
She grumbles some more but finally slips the flimsy shoes on.
“I’ll join you two in a few minutes, okay?” Mama says, sliding the jar into a cabinet.
I nod and follow my sister outside. As soon as she hits the top step, she lets out a squeal and zips down the rest of the stairs.
“Peach, hold up!” I yell over the wind. She either doesn’t hear me or doesn’t care to, because she doesn’t hold up at all. I huff and puff behind her, but despite my long, twelve-year-old legs that used to be pretty great at cutting through the water, I can’t catch up. My sister is lightning fast.
Peach bursts onto the sand, which is positively riddled with all sorts of pebbles and broken seashells. This doesn’t deter my sister, however. She kicks off her flip-flops as soon as her feet hit the beach and keeps on running toward the water, splashing into the shallows, waves licking up her calves.
“Peach, get out of the water!” I call, halting before the sea can touch my shoes.
She giggles and yelps. “It’s so cold!” She reaches down and scoops up a handful, Nicholas still tucked under her arm, and tosses it into the air in front of her. Droplets gather on the ends of her hair, and I try not to hyperventilate.
She doesn’t get out, though. She kicks and twirls, and I follow her horizontally, careful to keep away from the foamy slide of the sea. I feel my nose start to tickle, a sure sign I’m about to cry. I inch forward, only to inch back again.
“This is fun!” she says.
“Yeah, a blast,” I say, once my breathing calms down. “Come on out. We can build a sand castle or something.”
“You come in.”
“I’m not coming in.”
“Because you’re afraid of the ocean?”
She doesn’t ask it to be mean—I know this. She turns to look at me, her eyes wide and curious as she swirls one foot through the sea. I wonder if she even remembers when I loved the water—six AM practices with my neighborhood swim team, day trips to Half Moon Bay and me diving deep into the water even though it was usually freezing, searching for any signs of life with my snorkeling mask, dreams of being a marine biologist constantly floating through my head. The tickle in my nose skitters up into my eyes, and I blink fast to get rid of the sudden sting. My fingertips twitch without my permission, as if they might rebel so they can feel that cold, salty water flow between them. Traitors. I knew this ocean was going to be bad news.
I look away from Peach and up the beach, just long enough to get my emotions back in check. Movement catches my eye, drawing my attention to the little green house. Someone stands on the porch—looks like a woman with bright red hair, but I can’t really tell from this far away. She’s watching us. She waves.
I turn away and focus on the task at hand—keeping my sister alive—which is exactly when I notice that Peach’s lip is bleeding.
“What’s wrong with your lip?” I ask, hand on my Safety Pack.
She sticks her tongue out and laps up the bit of blood. “I bit it.”
She shrugs. “When I was running around.” Blood bubbles up on her lip again, and my stomach turns.
I smell that salty-metallic scent, see red spreading through the water.
I blink and the smell is gone, the water only blue gray. I shake my head, trying to clear the memories, but my breath stays caught between my ribs.
“Come on, we need to get some ice or something for that,” I say.
“It’s fine!” She scoops up some water and rubs it all over her mouth. I shudder, imagining a million microbes infesting her body through that one little cut.
“Gross, don’t do that.”
“What? It helps.” She douses her mouth with water again. This time, her lip comes through clean, the blood gone for now. I breathe out a few lungfuls of air.
“What’s going on, you two?” Mama asks, walking through the sand behind me. She’s barefoot, her own sandals dangling from her fingers. On her arm are the beaded bracelets Peach made for her, all different colors. I’ve got five stacked up on my wrist too, and I’m pretty sure at least two of Peach’s own bracelets are floating out into the open sea by now.
“She’s swimming,” I say, motioning to my sister.
“I’m not swimming,” Peach says.
“And bleeding,” I say.
“I am not, Hazey!” she screeches, fists clenched.
Mama splashes into the water before bending down to inspect the cut. “You’re fine, Peach Fuzz. Don’t go any deeper, though—this water is freezing.”
Peach nods and continues skipping through the sea.
“Mama,” I say.
She doesn’t say anything. She just walks back toward me, her pale legs wet and goose-pimply, and settles on the sand.
“Calm down, Hazel,” she says softly. “Sit down. Try to relax.”
I sit down, but I definitely don’t relax. Lately, it seems like Calm down, Hazel is constantly coming out of Mama’s mouth. All those words do is make me feel even more keyed up, like something’s wrong with me and I can’t even do the most basic, easiest things.
“Did you finish?” I ask Mama to get my mind on other things.
In every new town, Mama sets up the kitchen while I make all the beds and start our laundry. Back in California, Mama and Mum shared all the housework, even though Mum taught visual art at the university and Mama worked from home as a writer. Now that Mum’s gone, it’s up to me to take up the slack. I taught Peach how to wipe down the bathroom sinks, though I won’t let her touch a toilet.
“All finished,” Mama says, brushing some sand off her knee. “You?”
“Yeah. Peach needs some new jeans. Both pairs have holes in the knee.”
“How long did those last? A month?”
She laughs. “I’ll pick some up in town this week.”
“I can get them,” I say. I always pick out Peach’s clothes. At least I have for the past two years, usually on a trip to Target while Mama browses the books. “Just give me some money and I’ll—”
“I’ll do it, Hazel,” Mama says. She tilts her head at me, eyes soft but narrowed. “Okay?”
I nod and look away, my throat feeling thicker by the minute.
“Whee!” Peach yells, splashing toward us. “I love this ocean, Mama!”
“I’m glad, baby girl. No swimming without me or Hazel, okay?”
Peach nods, and that is the extent of the water warnings. Mama stands up and swipes the sand from her cutoffs. “Ready to explore the town a little? I thought we’d go out to dinner and save the grocery shopping for tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I say, even though exploring the town is always my least-favorite part of moving to a new place. At least with grocery shopping, I have a purpose. Exploring leaves too many variables up to chance, too many people to deal with I wasn’t expecting, too many obstacles. I stand and make sure my Safety Pack is tight around my waist.
“Let’s go get you into some dry clothes, Peach Fuzz,” Mama says, lifting Peach out of the surf. Her shorts are drenched up to the pockets. Mama reaches out her free hand to tuck my hair behind my ears. Her fingers skim over my scars, a thick silver explosion across my left cheek like the branches of a leafless tree. I’ve got little white marks on other parts of my face and left arm, too, grain-sized nicks here and there left over from the kayaking accident.
She doesn’t say anything about them, though.
She never does.
When she touches them like this, I don’t think it’s on purpose. Every now and then, Peach counts my scars when we’re snuggled in bed at night. She gets a different number every time. She was three when Mum died, so I don’t know how much she even remembers. I barely remember anything from when I was three—hazy pictures in my head of me and Mum and Mama at the park near our house, Mum pushing me along on a yellow tricycle while Mama snapped pictures.
Still, it’s a relief when Peach asks about my scars, when she sees them, whispering questions at night about the mom who looked like me, the mom who gave her Nicholas. I tell her things like how Mum could climb the rocky crags in Lassen National Park just like a spider. How she was allergic to strawberries and hated chocolate. How she used to stick baby Peach in a carrier on her back while we all hiked near Point Reyes by the coast. Some days, the fog would be so thick I couldn’t even see right in front of me. I’ll even tell her about Mama, the Mama I used to know, the one who couldn’t walk by me without kissing the top of my head or giving me a quick hug, the one whose favorite Saturday activity was curling up with me on the couch wrapped in a big quilt and reading for hours.
Peach loves hearing stuff like this, but she’ll eventually get a little pucker between her eyebrows and trace a finger over my scars, and that’s exactly when I’ll change the subject or tell her it’s time to go to sleep.
I want her to remember Mum, the way our family was.
I don’t want her to remember why Mum is gone forever, why our family is ruined, how it’s all my fault.
We turn our backs to the ocean and start up the path to our little cottage. Mama carries Peach, and my sister rests her head on Mama’s shoulder. Moving is always exhausting—the packing up of one life, traveling, then unpacking a whole new life in a whole new town, a new house with bare walls and zero memories. I feel heavy just looking up at Sea Rose Cottage, like I might disappear altogether in this house, forgotten like Mum.
Right before we reach our porch, though, I catch a flash of movement in the corner of my eye. Turning, I see the redheaded woman from the green house hurrying toward us, a redheaded girl who looks about my age running alongside her.
“Let’s go, Mama, I’m hungry,” I say, picking up my own pace. Mama always chooses pretty-secluded houses to rent, which is the only thing I like about all these new towns. Ever since the accident, I seem to lock up around other people, especially kids my age, who tend to rudely stare at my face. Plus, why make friends when we’re just going to leave in three months anyway? Why make friends I’ll just end up losing?
For the past two years, Mama’s let me homeschool. We use an online curriculum, and she checks my work every afternoon. We’ve never talked about it, really. We’ve never talked about a lot of things, but ever since we left California, there hasn’t been any mention of Peach or me going to an actual school in a building. We move around too much to go through the trouble, I think, but even when we eventually go home to California, I’ll want to homeschool. Being around other kids my age who will just stare and ask questions I don’t want to answer, not to mention the myriad dangers to be found in school, from a billion germs to playground terrors—no thanks. Peach and I will have our own little academy during the school year, where I can keep us both safe.
People are everywhere, though, and neighbors get nosy, especially when you’re new in town. Some might call it welcoming, but not me. I glance back down the beach, and the woman is still in hot pursuit.
“Okay, Haze, calm down,” Mama says when I push on her back, trying to speed her up the stairs.
“Hazey, cut it out,” Peach says, swatting at me with Nicholas. She’s getting cranky, which means she’s hungry, too, which means all the more reason to hurry.
The woman is closer now, close enough that I can see she has short hair, shaved on one side and curling elegantly over her forehead on the other. The kid with her has long, wild crimson hair. I mean, totally wild. She looks a little bit like Merida from Brave, except this girl’s hair is more wavy than curly, but it definitely has that bird’s nest look about it. She’s probably about an inch taller than me and is wearing a long-sleeved navy T-shirt with THE ROSE MAID LIVES written across the chest in a curling seafoam-green script, along with seersucker shorts. One of those instant cameras on a rainbow-colored strap is looped around her neck. She sees me watching and lifts a hand to wave, but I turn away before she can flutter the first finger.
Mama freezes. I freeze. Even Peach freezes, although she sort of has to, since she’s attached to Mama like a koala. We all turn toward the redheaded lady, who’s close enough now that she stops, hands on her hips as she breathes heavily and stares straight at Mama. For a second, I’m hoping it’s all a mistake. Mama’s name is Evelyn, but she definitely doesn’t go by Evie. Never has, as far as I know. Not even Mum called her that. But then I hear her suck in a breath, and the lady takes another step closer. I back up. Mama stays put.
“Evelyn,” the lady says this time, crushing all my hope. She knows my mom.
And I don’t know who in the world she is.
Claire?” Mama says. Her voice is a gauzy whisper.
The lady’s whole face breaks out in a smile, and she speeds toward us, kicking up sand with her bare feet. “Oh my god, I knew it was you! I’d recognize that walk anywhere.”
Mama makes a funny noise—halfway between a sob and a laugh—and moves forward. She sets Peach down. I pull my sister to my side and back up as far as possible, my spine smacking against the porch railing. Then the lady draws Mama into a hug, arms all the way around Mama’s back. She even rests her pointy chin on Mama’s shoulder. At first, Mama sort of locks up—I can’t remember the last time she hugged anyone, really, other than Peach, who insists on regular snuggles and sleeps in Mama’s bed half the time—but then it’s like she’s a stick of butter in the microwave, and she melts right into this total stranger’s arms.
“Claire,” she says again, like she really can’t believe it’s true.
The lady pulls back and nods. “Goodness, it’s been—what? Twenty-five years?”
“Sounds about right,” Mama says.
“What in the world are you doing here?” Claire asks.
“We just moved in. We’re here for the summer.”
“Amazing,” Claire says, then juts her thumb toward the green house. I notice a dock near its back porch, a little boat bouncing in the waves. I shiver. “We live just down the beach—can you believe it?”
“I can’t,” Mama says, laughing and shaking her head. “I really can’t.”
“Lemon.” The lady—Claire, I guess she’s called—turns to the girl behind her, who is just lowering her light blue camera from her face. She pops her head up, brown eyes wide and guilty-looking and fixed right on me. I untuck my hair from behind my ear so it curtains around my scarred cheek.
“Put that thing away and meet my old friend,” Claire says.
“Sorry, sorry,” the girl says. She twists the light blue plastic lens and it clicks shut.
Her cheeks have gone bright red, and I’m almost positive she was just about to snap a picture of all of us without our permission. Or rather, of me, as she was staring right at me. I press my hair against my cheek and grit my teeth.
“Hi, oh my gosh, hi!” the girl says. The wind whips her hair around her face and she flails to get it out of her eyes. Her nails are painted a bright turquoise. “Sorry. Wow, it’s windy.”
“Isn’t it always windy on the beach?” I say, my voice as flat as a griddle cake.
Mama gives me a look over her shoulder.
“Yes, it is, actually!” the girl says. When she gets her hair under control, she stares at me again, her mouth hanging open a little. I feel my cheeks warm up, and I frown back at her.
“Lemon, this is Evelyn,” Claire says.
The girl keeps staring at me. It’s really weird. Claire nudges her elbow, and she seems to snap out of it. “Sorry, sorry, you just look…” She shakes her head while I glare down at my feet, my face a raging fire now. My scars feel like lightning bolts across my skin.
“Sorry, hi, it’s so nice to meet you,” the girl finally says, sticking out her arm and pumping Mama’s hand like a grown-up.
“You too… Lemon, is it?” Mama says.
“Clementine,” the girl says. “But when I was little, I couldn’t say it, and Lemon just sort of stuck.”
“Hey, I’m named for a fruit too!” Peach says, moving away from me and toward the fruit girl.
“You are?” Lemon says, leaning down with her hands on her knees so she’s eye to eye with Peach. “Let me guess… Strawberry?”
Peach giggles. “No way!”
Peach shakes her head.
“Apricot? Plum? Dragon fruit?”
“Dragon fruit?” Peach says, covering her mouth and laughing. “That’s so silly!”
Lemon straightens and taps her chin. “Well, I’m stumped.”
“Peach! My name is Peach!”
“Of course it is!” Lemon says, popping her hands onto her hips. The two grown-ups laugh. “Pretty as a peach.”
Peach practically glows. “My real name is Penelope Foster Bly, but Hazey named me Peach. Her middle name is Foster too, because—”
Praise for Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea:—Kacen Callender, National Book Award winner of King and the Dragonflies
“Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea is simply magical. Hazel’s story of grief swells into a transformative tale of healing that will steal any reader’s heart. Yes, magic is absolutely real—Ashley has proven it with the beauty and power of her words alone.”
* “Packing an emotional punch, this delicately woven novel by Blake features clearly wrought characters who capture the heart.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- * “Blake’s gorgeous prose will stir deep emotions within readers, and her descriptions of the seaside setting are full of lovely sensory details... This story of a girl navigating the choppy waters of grief toward a brighter shore is heartrending but full of hope.”—Bookpage, starred review
* "An honest and moving exploration of loss that highlights the healing power of reclaiming oneself and allowing hope to thrive."
—School Library Journal, starred review
"The author allows the reader to feel the pain that death and divorce bring, the joys of finding acceptance with peers, determining one's own sexual identity, and learning to begin the healing process from physical and mental pain. Readers will be able to see themselves in the characters and may find ways to deal with the struggles they are going through in their own lives."—School Library Connection
[Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea] is a moving story of grief and guilt. This novel deals with loss in a way that feels accessible but never condescending.—Booklist
"Blake balances many plot elements, often serious ones, without overburdening the narrative, to create a character-based, atmospheric novel with a strong sense of place."—Horn Book
- "At times heartwrenching but ultimately heartwarming, it’s a story of resilience that readers will want to dive right into."—BCCB
- On Sale
- May 24, 2022
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers