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The Canyon's Edge
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- Trade Paperback $7.99 $11.99 CAD
- ebook $7.99 $9.99 CAD
- Hardcover $16.99 $22.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 14, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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One year after a random shooting changed their family forever, Nora and her father are exploring a slot canyon deep in the Arizona desert, hoping it will help them find peace. Nora longs for things to go back to normal, like they were when her mother was still alive, while her father keeps them isolated in fear of other people. But when they reach the bottom of the canyon, the unthinkable happens: A flash flood rips across their path, sweeping away Nora's father and all of their supplies.
Suddenly, Nora finds herself lost and alone in the desert, facing dehydration, venomous scorpions, deadly snakes, and, worst of all, the Beast who has terrorized her dreams for the past year. If Nora is going to save herself and her father, she must conquer her fears, defeat the Beast, and find the courage to live her new life.
Don't miss Dusti Bowling's new novel, Dust, available for preorder now.
I walk to the Jeep in the middle of a cold, dark desert night. Dad is already stuffing our supplies into the back, the tailpipe blowing steam tinted red by taillights. We need an early start; it’s going to take a while to reach the place where no one can find us.
Dad lifts a hand and pats my rumpled hair. “Tired?” he asks.
He pushes my backpack toward me. “Why don’t you double-check it?” I open my bag as Dad digs through his own and mumbles, “It feels like I’m missing something.”
His words hit me right in the chest. We are missing something. We’ll always be missing something.
Shivering, I zip up my pink hoodie, which I got at Sunset Crater. It says Get Out There, but this is the first time we’ll be “getting out there” since our family went from three to two.
Pushing those thoughts away, I sort through the supplies Dad put in my pack: water bottles, sunblock, helmet, almonds, protein bars, and my favorite flavor of electrolyte powder, watermelon. He remembers.
I smile up at him, but he’s now ripping everything out of his pack. “I know I’m forgetting something,” he says, his voice rising. He pulls out rope for rappelling, cams for climbing, carabiners for carrying, gloves for gripping, and harnesses to hold us.
Touching his arm, I say, “I think we have everything,” though it feels like a lie. He continues emptying his pack until he pulls out one last item: gun.
I stumble backward, choking on my own breath.
Dad looks back at me and immediately sets it down. He takes me into his arms, much thinner than they used to be. “I’m sorry, Nora,” he whispers. “It’s just a flare gun.”
My heart pounds so hard I’m sure Dad can feel it.
“I doubt we’d ever need to use it,” Dad says, patting my back. “Hey, it’s gonna be a good day.”
I take in a deep breath. “I know.”
Dad looks up. “Almost no moon,” he says. “Did you hear about those bones they found on the moon?”
My head snaps back. “What?”
He grins. “I guess the cow didn’t make it.”
I groan. “Oh my gosh, Dad.”
He gives my long hair a gentle tug, then stuffs everything back in his pack and slams the hatch shut. He limps around to the driver’s side and gets in. He seems more like himself today than in a very long time. It really might be a good day.
We drive the empty desert highway for a couple of hours until Dad turns onto a rough dirt road that follows the power lines. I slide my hand across the foggy window and peer through the wet streaks. Nothing but desert surrounds us as we drive—no homes, no people, no cars except ours. Nothing but ocotillos, saguaros, mesquites, palo verdes, and wolf spiders with eyes that shine like diamonds in our headlights. Dad points them out to me.
“You see that one?”
I scan the lit area. “Yep.”
“There’s another one.”
“I see it.”
Dad thinks wolf spiders are amazing.
“You should have invited Danielle,” he says suddenly.
I swallow, thinking about the last time we were all together, when we went camping and fishing at Bartlett Lake. How I had to hook all her worms because Danielle didn’t want to touch them. How she’d squealed in excitement at catching the smallest bluegill ever. How Mom had snapped a picture of it. How I threw it back in the water and Danielle had jumped in after it, yelling that she’d wanted to keep it as a pet. How I jumped in after her, and we spent the rest of the day swimming and splashing and scaring away the fish.
“Sorry,” Dad says. “I just… miss her. That’s all.”
I miss her, too, though I can’t bring myself to say it out loud.
It’s dawn by the time Dad stops, startling me awake. It was a quick nap, and I try to hold on to the dream, but it’s already gone.
If it had been the nightmare, I would still feel it. I wouldn’t be able to forget.
Dad turns off the Jeep and the lights blink out. I step into the cold morning and stretch, run my fingers through my long hair, and pull it back in a ponytail. The sun is rising behind the dark line of mountains, their tops jagged like the edge of a serrated knife. I reach back into the car and pull out my notebook and pencil and quickly jot down:
The sapphire sky
the desert morning
and breathes out
pink flame to burn up
the wisps of silver clouds.
I stuff the notepad and pencil in my backpack. When Mary, my therapist, found out I liked writing, she told me I should use it as a tool—that I could rewrite my nightmare. But I don’t want to do that. Rewriting it means I have to think about it. What I want is to crumple it up and throw it in the garbage, burn it, delete it forever. But Mary wasn’t totally wrong. Writing makes me feel closer to Mom, like I can somehow make up for all the things she’ll never write with my poems, though I don’t think I could ever write as well as she did.
“Maybe you could read me what you’re writing later,” Dad says.
“It would be nice to share it with someone, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s just for me.”
Shrugging, Dad slips his backpack on and buckles it around his chest and waist. He runs a hand through his graying hair, overgrown and curling over his ears, then locks the Jeep. We set out away from the road, our hiking boots crunching over the hard desert dirt.
I’m still sleepy, and I stumble over a couple of larger rocks.
“Watch your step,” Dad says, but he should be paying attention to his own steps—he’s stumbling more than I am.
I watch him limp, knowing every step hurts. Every night, he rubs his leg with special lotion. Every month, he visits the doctor. Every day, he swallows pills. Three surgeries and a metal rod. Nice words like I’m okay and I feel fine, but I know he’s still in pain. It will never go away.
A bullet can do that.
A bullet is tiny. It can weigh a fraction of an ounce and be a fraction of an inch long. And yet, something that small can rip flesh and shatter bone and puncture organs and stop hearts. Something that small can tear a hole in your life so large it will never close, so ragged it will never be sewn, so ugly no one will ever look at you the same again, so painful you’ll feel it every second for the rest of your life.
Even when that tiny bullet never touched you at all.
We stop after a few minutes, and Dad checks his map and compass. I gaze at the mountains to the west now that the sky has brightened, but the sun hasn’t yet reached them—it’s still really dark over there.
“Well,” Dad says, and I turn to him. “We go this way.” He folds up the map and points to the east.
It’s quiet except for the skittering of small lizards and the ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah of a cactus wren—the sound like an engine that won’t turn over. Surrounded by nothing but the cold waking desert, I feel the rising sun heat my face. I’m both cool and warm, worried yet hopeful, loving and hating, at peace and at war. We hike to the top of a small hill, and I get my first glimpse of the canyon.
Mom, Dad, and I once watched a documentary about a man who walked over a canyon on a tightrope. Despite knowing he wouldn’t fall, I was as tense as the rope he walked on. This last year has felt that way—like I’m walking a tightrope. Or maybe like I am the tightrope. I told Mary this. She responded: “Eleanor”—she calls me Eleanor, even though everyone else calls me Nora—“you’re not the tightrope. You’re the canyon. And your healing is like the water carving you. It takes time. It’s a never-ending process. But as you heal and grow, something beautiful and layered and solid and lasting is formed.”
I think Mary might be a poet, too.
Dad and I finally reach the edge of the isolated, unnamed canyon he found for us. It’s narrow, widening and tapering, twisting and turning as far as I can see. Looking down into it is like getting a peek at an unknown world. I can only see the bottom in snippets, some of it hidden by the curving walls or outcroppings, some of it so dark that anything could be waiting in the shadows. The walls I do see are layered and look as though they’ve been burned in places. That’s the desert’s varnish. On the other side, maybe only fifteen feet across, a kangaroo rat scampers to the edge, seems to be inspecting the canyon, too.
“Cool!” I say. “It’s a slot canyon.”
The only other slot canyon I’d been to was Antelope Canyon, and that one had been packed with tourists. I’d wanted to take my time exploring every hidden crack and corner, every layer cut and carved by wind and water, but our guide had rushed us through.
“Yep,” Dad says, clearly impressed with himself. “Hard to find, too. Took lots of expert research.” He leans over and looks down into the crevice, whistling. “Isn’t she a beauty?”
“It’s actually pretty small.” I grin. “Honestly, it’s not all that impressive.”
Dad presses a hand to his chest as if I’ve hurt him to his core. Then he picks up a rock and tosses it over the canyon. It bounces on the other side in a puff of dust and sends the kangaroo rat scurrying under a nearby brittlebush. “You know, Nora, I think you could jump it.”
I laugh. “Yeah, right.”
“So it’s not that small, then?”
I shake my head. “It’s medium at best.”
Snickering, Dad unbuckles his backpack and tosses it on the ground. He pulls out our rope and harnesses while I secure my helmet. Dad finds a good-sized boulder at the edge and sets an anchor in it, then two backup cams in case the anchor fails. He raises a finger and says matter-of-factly, “Redundancy is essential.”
Raising a finger, I finish, “Especially when risking your life.” We smile at each other, and I don’t think we’ve felt this normal in a year—one year exactly today.
Dad threads the rope and ties stopper knots. We trade our hiking boots for rock shoes and step into our harnesses. I tighten mine around my waist, but Dad still double-checks it.
Dad backs away from me. He stands at an angle on the edge of the canyon, his rope going taut, and a moment of hesitation, of fear, crosses his face. This is the first time since Before. Since his shot leg. Since it’s only the two of us instead of the three of us. Then the moment of fear passes. His face lightens. “To infinity and beyond!” he cries, lowering down.
I stand at the edge, watching him. It’s obvious how hard it is for him to rappel down by himself. With no one holding the rope at the bottom to help him, he has to control his own descent, slowly threading the rope through the descender, his face twisting in pain and determination—no, it’s defiance. No one’s a better climber than my dad, and I know that when he makes it to the bottom, he’ll feel even more normal again. I want him to be normal again. I want him to be like he used to be.
Slipping gloves over my shaking hands, my stomach clenches. Forty feet. It may not seem like a lot, but it’s enough to kill us, especially out here where no one can find us. But Dad doesn’t see it that way. In Dad’s mind, the only danger in the world is people. This canyon is safety.
Dad wasn’t always like this. It started as only one person and one place he feared. But it spread until it became all people and all places. One minute we were tossing boxes of macaroni and cheese into a grocery cart. The next minute we were hiding in the cereal aisle behind a tower of Frosted Flakes on sale, our cart abandoned, Dad shaking, his arms gripped so tightly around me I could barely breathe. After that, Dad kept seeing more and more suspicious people. Kept looking for exits, paths of escape, routes to freedom.
Now our quiet house, this empty desert, the many barriers we’ve built between us and others—it’s all Frosted Flakes on sale.
Dad glances up at me and forces a smile through his sweat and strain. I smile back, trying to assure him with my expression that I’m not worried, that he’s doing just fine.
Mary says Dad and I have built walls around ourselves. She says our walls are made of all the unhealthy things—guilt and shame and fear and anger. She says we haven’t fully processed or accepted what happened.
But how could anyone accept such a thing? Why shouldn’t we build walls to protect ourselves? Mary says the walls are weak, leaky, full of holes that constantly drip and seep pain.
I think maybe we just need to build stronger walls.
Dad waves from the bottom, and I pull the rope up. Threading the end through my belay loop, I tie my figure-eight knot. Then I thread the rope through again, following the same path, duplicating the pattern, my hands relaxing, my stomach unclenching a little bit. At home I keep a length of rope next to my bed. Sometimes I sit and tie the figure eight for hours.
I grip the rope in my gloved hands, sweat dripping down my back. My hoodie is already too warm. My breath hitches as I step backward off the edge.
“On rappel!” I shout, pushing my legs against the stone, beginning my descent, using my guide hand to feed the rope through the rappel device. The harness straps dig into my lower back and bare legs, and I wish I’d worn long pants instead of jean shorts.
Dad is my belayer, holding the rope at the bottom. He helps keep me steady as I walk backward down the wall, my feet pressed against the rock, the rest of my body leaning into a seated position. One step at a time. Down the wall. My body senses the danger in what I’m doing, and I freeze.
Fear fills me, churns my insides, overwhelms me, makes my mind want to escape to somewhere else, into my poetry. I don’t look down. Instead, I focus on the wall in front of me:
Layers, layers, and layers.
Smooth pale seams
upon rough spatters of rainbow red
upon pitted and pockmarked pink
upon veins of gray.
Layers, layers, and layers.
Mary’s words break through: Identify what you fear, Eleanor.
“Dying,” I whisper.
Are you likely to die in this situation?
Don’t leave until you’re calm. Facing fear is a skill that must be learned.
I breathe in deep and steady, trying to slow my pounding heart, willing my frozen limbs to move.
“Everything okay up there?” Dad calls, sounding winded from his descent.
Taking another deep breath, I shout, “I’m coming down.”
He won’t, can’t, climb up to help me right now. And I don’t expect him to. In the Before, I once froze against another wall. In the Before, Dad climbed up to meet me. In the Before, Dad put his forehead to mine and told me It’s okay. I’m here. Whatever’s coming, we’ll face it together.
In the After, Dad doesn’t have the strength. In the After, I face this by myself.
Dad pats my helmet and removes it. “I was worried about you for a second. Everything all right?”
I gaze around at the tall, layered walls in every shade of red imaginable and breathe in the cool canyon air. “Yeah.” I remove my helmet and clip it to my backpack. “Everything’s good.”
We change back into our hiking boots. Leaving the bright red rappelling rope in place so we can climb up later, we set off to discover whatever secret things might be hidden down here in the canyon.
I stretch my arms out wide and gently run my fingertips along the canyon walls while I walk. Small embedded pebbles tickle my fingertips and gently chip at my bitten nails. “Hey, Dad.” I stop and press my palms against the cool, rough surface. He turns around. “Look, I’m as wide as a canyon.”
“As wide as a small canyon.”
“Well, I didn’t say I was as wide as the Grand Canyon.”
Every passing minute brings more light into this narrow crack in the desert. Rock surrounds us and colors transform, light pink blending into deeper maroon like someone swirled cream into the stone but not very well. Sunlight gradually creeps down one wall of the canyon, the rock shining so brightly above us, it seems the canyon is making the light instead of reflecting it.
“Do you think anything lives down here?” I ask.
Dad points at a small, shallow cave, at the white stains running down the rock. “Bats. Probably smaller animals, lizards, snakes for sure.”
“What about bigger animals? Like a mountain lion?”
“I suppose a mountain lion could climb down here.”
“Have you ever seen a mountain lion?”
“Yes, but only from a safe distance.”
“Is there anything you’ve never seen in the desert you think would be cool to see?” Mom and Dad spent so much time out here together, it’s hard for me to believe there’s anything he hasn’t seen.
“Oh, sure. Lots of animals.” Dad stops and thinks a moment. “Never seen a ringtail. Never seen a fox. That would be pretty neat.”
Making our way through the canyon, I gaze up at the pale green jojoba and brittlebush lining the edge and spot a barrel cactus growing out of the wall, where no plant should be able to live. Nothing could ever hurt us down here. Down here we are safe. Alone.
But I’m not sure all this safety is worth all this aloneness.
Dad picks up a rock. “It’s shaped like a heart,” he says and places it in my hand. “A heart for you, my dear.” I roll my eyes at him, and he laughs.
When he turns away, I pocket the heart-shaped stone, the only gift Dad has given me today for my birthday. And this canyon is the only place he can take me because Dad no longer feels any place is safe if people are there—not stores, concerts, festivals, schools, and especially not restaurants. That’s why he found us this canyon—because nothing can hurt us when no one is nearby.
We didn’t die with Mom one year ago at Café Ardiente, but we’ve been slowly dying ever since. Alone.
I pat the heart-shaped stone in my pocket and watch my father’s beaming face as he points out a small gopher snake hiding under a ledge. When he continues walking, I realize he’s humming. I stop and listen, finally making out what it is: “Across the Universe.”
Maybe today we begin to come back to life.
We stop after several hours of hiking and exploring. I remove my backpack and stretch my arms above me, take out my hair tie, and run my hands over my scalp, sore from my tight ponytail. I toss my hair tie in my pack.
Dad’s already munching on some beef jerky, so I grab a protein bar and make my way to an outcropping along one canyon wall where the rock juts out like a small stage a few feet high and wide. I pull myself up and sit cross-legged, eating my bar, running a finger along a deep crack in the stone surface. When I’m done, I take off my hoodie and bunch it up under my head. I lie back on the flat stone surface, just large enough to hold me with my knees bent, and gaze at the slim river of blue sky above. It must be around midday because the desert is quiet and sunlight shines down pretty far into the canyon. Lifting a hand, my fingers nearly touch the beam of light, sparkling with dust, but it’s just out of reach.
Pushing off the outcropping and walking over to my backpack, I remove my notebook and sit down next to Dad. He peers over my shoulder, and I pull my notebook up to my chest so he can’t spy on what I’m writing. He smiles. “Are you ever going to let me read what you write?”
Hugging my notebook, I tell him, “Maybe.”
Dad stares down at me. “Maybe?”
“What if it’s not good?”
Dad puts his arm around me. “If it came from your heart, then it can’t be anything but good.”
“You have to say that. You’re my dad,” I say, my voice hoarse.
“I mean it. Plus, I have some great lines for you to write.”
Raising an eyebrow, I look up at him. “What?”
“What’s brown and sticky?”
I squint at him. “What?”
Praise for The Canyon's Edge:
A 2020 Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Kids Book
* "...stunning.... an edge-of-your-seat read."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
- * "...this emotionally resonant survival tale is a must-have."—School Library Journal, starred review
- * "....powerful..a triumphant story of healing and bravery."—Booklist, starred review
- * “A fast-paced, gripping novel…the high level of tension and the emotional pull of Bowling’s writing make this a praiseworthy, adventure-filled story.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- "...beautifully written. [Dusti] Bowling is a master storyteller."—Midwest Book Review
- "A powerful, heart-thumping story about survival and the inner strength it takes to reclaim life after trauma. Nora shows us that it's possible to emerge stronger than we've ever been before."—Ann Braden, award-winning author of The Benefits of Being an Octopus
- "You won't be able to stop turning pages of this gripping, unforgettable novel with emotional depth and resonance as you cheer for Nora to conquer her inner and outer beasts."—Donna Gephart, award-winning author of Lily and Dunkin, The Paris Project, and Abby, Tried and True
- "A haunting, heart-pounding story of survival, brilliantly told in verse. The Canyon's Edgewill inspire, uplift and resonate. I loved it!"—Barbara Dee, author of Maybe He Just Likes You and My Life in the Fish Tank
- "A gutsy, page-turning tale of courage, survival, and healing, told in dynamic verse. The Canyon's Edge is powerful, unflinching, and full of heart."—Chris Baron, author of All of Me
- On Sale
- Sep 14, 2021
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers