The Girl in the Well Is Me


By Karen Rivers

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When you move somewhere new, you get to be someone new. I was ready.

Sixth-grader Kammie Summers’s plan to be one of the popular girls at school hasn’t gone the way she hoped. She’s fallen into a well during a (fake) initiation into the Girls’ club. Now she’s trapped in the dark, counting the hours, hoping to be rescued. (The Girls have gone for help, haven’t they?)

As the hours go by, Kammie’s real-life trouble mixes with memories of the best and worst moments of her life so far, including the awful reasons her family moved to this new town in the first place. And as she begins to feel hungry and thirsty and dizzy, Kammie discovers she does have visitors, including a French-speaking coyote and goats that just might be zombies. But they can’t get her out of the well. (Those Girls are coming back, aren’t they?)

“Moving, suspenseful, and impossible to put down.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Darkly humorous . . . Honest and forthcoming.” —The New York Times Book Review

“I dare you to pick up this riveting novel without reading straight through to its heart-stopping conclusion.” —Katherine Applegate, Newbery Medal–winning author of The One and Only Ivan




The whole thing feels like a prank at first, like something they planned—a joke with a punch line. Maybe, before I know it, one of the girls will tell me it's meant to be funny and then get me out of here.

But then again, maybe not.

I have a bad, bad, bad feeling about this.

I try not to panic. The first thing everyone says to do in emergencies—earthquakes or house fires or if, say, you fall down an abandoned well out in the wasteland behind town—is to stay calm.

"Stay calm, Kammie," I tell myself. My voice echoes up the dusty shaft to where the girls are, safe on high ground. I kind of think of them as The Girls, with capital letters like that. I think that's how they think of themselves.


I am thoroughly wedged, arms pinned against my sides. No one answers me, but I know they are up there.

I can hear my own breathing.

I'm panicking.

No! I'm not panicking. I won't.

My feet are dangling over nothing. I can feel all that emptiness underneath them, cold and bottomless.

I try to breathe slow, in and out. In and out. In and out. My heart beats. Nothing is broken, at least I don't think so. So I guess I'm OK.

I am OK.

I will be OK.


I'm not actually OK and it hurts to breathe. It hurts to be. I scream "HELP!" again. But it hurts even more to scream, so I stop.

"Guys?" I call. "This isn't funny." Why aren't they answering? I know they are there. I hear gravel crunching under their feet and the sound of voices, low and too quiet to understand, whispers that float by in the sky above the well's now-­open mouth.

"KANDY!" I scream. "HELP!" Kandy is in charge. Kandy is the one to ask. She is The Queen of them all.

I stare up at the perfectly round hole of sky and hot Texas air, and wait. And then—finally—there they are, three shadowy faces peering down at me from the top of the well, filling up all that blue. Mandy, Kandy, and Sandy, the most popular girls in the sixth grade at Nowheresville Middle School. Their mouths are open, like it might help them to see me better.

"Wow," Sandy says. "You fell in." I guess Sandy is in charge of stating obvious things.

"I fell in." I'm crying now. "I fell in!" I repeat. "This isn't funny. Get me out!"

The sun is angled so there is just one ribbon of light on the wall in front of me. There is not much else to look at except the blue hole up there, and craning my neck is starting to hurt. The wall is yellowish-­brown dusty brick. Or maybe it's ancient clay. The dust makes me think of old people's skin, crumbling and dry.

"Help me please, help me please . . ." I whimper, pulling my face back as far from the wall as I can. I don't want to be breathing in old-­person skin dust! I cough. Why aren't they getting me out of here?

"HELP ME NOW," I yell. "PLEASE?"

"WAIT," a voice answers. "Just . . . hang ON."

"And, like, stop shouting," another one says. I don't know them well enough to be able to tell without looking whose voice is whose. I look up.

A foot is dangling over the edge, like the owner of the foot is just sitting there casually. The foot is wearing blue nail polish. My mom would kill me before she'd let me wear that color on my nails, that's for sure. She's old-­fashioned, she says. She doesn't think nail polish is "appropriate" for kids, even though she used to wear it all the time, back when she used to get pedicures. Probably the same color, even. I stick my tongue out at the foot, not that it can see me, and it vanishes back out of sight. The owner of the foot is probably thinking, What if it gets dirty? Gross.

I am covered with dirt. So I guess that I am gross. I sneeze three times, bang bang bang, and little clouds of dust float between me and the sun, hovering like filthy fairies.

This, as my grandma would say if she wasn't dead, is a fine kettle of fish. Luckily for me, there are no fish in the well—or water, thank goodness. I hate fish, with their puckered mouths that look like they are going to suck the flesh clean off your bones, tiny bit by tiny bit, like little sea vampires.

I may be 11 years old, but I'm very small for my age. If I wasn't so small, I wouldn't have been able to slip so easily into the bricks and mortar and whatever else holds well walls together when the old, dirt-­covered board I was standing on gave way and let me drop into the hole like a whack-­a-­mole. Except I can't pop back up. If I was a normal size, this wouldn't be happening. If this was a wishing well and I had a coin, I'd wish to be bigger. I'd wish to be huge. I'd wish to be the tallest girl in the sixth grade, the tallest girl in the world. I hate being small. It's just not fair.

The only time being small pays off is when you are trying to get a discount on movie tickets. And even then, it's not worth it because getting away with that is the same as lying. Lying turns your soul into something small and dry and hard, like an old raisin you find in your book bag squashed under a book you on-­purpose-­forgot to return to your old school library because you loved it too much to leave it behind.

I hereby declare that I, Kammie Summers, age 11, am not a liar, which is a miracle, if you consider where I come from. My parents are the biggest liars of all: If there was a prize for lying, they would win it by a mile. Their souls are worse than raisins, they are tiny lumps of coal, squashed so hard that maybe they're turning into diamonds, sharp and glittery. My soul? Well, it's still basically a grape, sweet and juicy and delicious and, frankly, kind of awesome.

Which doesn't even matter, because my juicy and amazing soul is stuck in a well.


Kandy Proctor's face appears above me. "Kammmmmmmmmie," she drawls, sing-­songy and slow, like What's the rush?

Kandy is also 11, but is not small for her age. Her head starts slowly moving lower and lower into the hole. Someone must be holding on to her legs to stop her from falling. Kandy Proctor is not the kind of girl who falls into wells. From this angle, her chin looks like it's made of Silly Putty, pulling stringily away from her neck. "Holy cow," she says. "You're far." She stretches her arm down the well, but can't even reach the tip of my nose, which is my highest point right now. Her fingernails are blue. And those blue nails, they aren't anywhere near close enough to touch me. Panic bubbles up in my throat. I swallow it like hot soup and it hurts and burns. She waves her arm around. "So, grab on, I guess!" she says. There is something about the way that Kandy moves that makes me think of a giraffe, long and bony.

She's too far away.

"I can't reach up!" I shout. I'm mad now. "My arms are stuck! How can I grab on? How am I going to get out?"

"Are you dying?" she asks, ignoring the question. "Like, are you . . . broken?"

"No!" I yell. "And no! I don't know! It hurts. I hurt. Why did you let me fall in the well?" Specifically what Kandy had said was, "Stand on that square right there." She'd pointed at a square of dirt that was slightly higher than the dirt around it, the thing that was covering the well. "And sing a song, loud, but not a Christmas song because I really hate those. Sing something good. And you have to get all the words right, or you have to start over."

I did it, just what she said. Or, at least, I tried to.

I had gotten as far as the dawn's early light when the wood under me snapped in two like someone had given it a kung fu punch, and down I went. I'd thought I was winning. I mean, I knew all the words and no one is going to say that the national anthem isn't cool. There's no way.

"Um," Kandy says now. "I kind of don't know why you didn't test the board before you stood on it?" Her hair, which is in a braid, swings like a rope. If this was a real working well, it would have a bucket tied to it. The bucket would land on my head. And she'd probably laugh.

"I hate you!" I whisper. Then louder I go, "I don't know. But you have to get me out!"

"Kammie," she says. "Stay calm, girl. OMG, the blood is totally rushing to my head. I feel sick. Are you going to grab me or not?"

I think she's a little bit in love with how caring she's trying to sound, but her OMGs and her concerned voice make me feel like I'm watching her audition for the school play. From the bottom of a well, that is. "I. Can't. Reach!" I yell. "OMG, Kandy," I mimic her. "Just get me out."

"I don't know how! Um," she says, "I'm seeing stars. Like in a cartoon! Sorry. I'll be back in a sec." Her hand and her braid and her face all disappear in an upwards flush of swirling Kandy drama. I hear a giggle and a thump.

I try to stop breathing so fast. I try to stop being so mad at Kandy. And Mandy. And Sandy. (Which is kind of impossible, but I try.) I also try to think about what to do. But all I can think is HELP! I'M GOING TO DIE! And also, OMG OMG OMG.

I guess Kandy is rubbing off on me after all. Back in my old life, I'd never say "OMG." I wasn't one of those girls. I was different. I used bigger words. But now I'm here, and I'm just a small-­worder. I'm someone who says "LOL." Or, "I want a BFF." I don't even know who I am anymore, to tell you the truth. And it doesn't matter. Because I'm in a well.

I try to pretend like I'm playing the part of a kid in a public service announcement about dangerous wells, except if I was, then the camera would stop rolling and someone would get me out. And/or I'd know how to get MYSELF out. Because someone would tell me how! That's the great thing about acting: Someone always tells you how to be and what to do. I love acting. Drama is my favorite—or, at least, it was. There is no Drama Club here in Nowheresville, Texas. There are sports, sports, and more sports. And stupid cheerleading classes, so maybe—if you try real hard—you can be a cheerleader for all those sports in high school.

No thank you.

I'd rather do the sports, even though I hate sports.

But maybe if I was sportier, I could climb out of here. Maybe if I was more muscly, I wouldn't have fallen down here in the first place. Maybe if I was someone else, I wouldn't have been gullible enough to stand on a well in the first place.

"HURRY!" I yell. "Hurry, hurry, hurry!"

I can hear the rise and fall of the girls' voices, the scuffling of shoes in the gravel-­crunchy dirt, the giggling. The pauses while they try to think of something. They could easily walk away. They could go and not come back. My stomach does a twist. I swallow hard, dust in my throat, trying not to be sick. Let's face it, there is nowhere for throw-­up to go in here except to puddle on my chest, which would basically be the worst.

Like this could get worse.

The blue sky, which is no longer blocked by Kandy Proctor's head, or anyone else's for that matter, is as round as a coin up there. The sun, which has edged into view, is burning a shadow in my vision. "There is a light at the end of the tunnel," I yell. "But I can't reach it!" I'm trying to be funny. Gallows humor, Mom would call it. We have a lot of that around our house lately.

"Don't go to the light!" shouts Sandra Fishburn, suddenly appearing, blinking, above me. Sandy's dad is a preacher. She's kind of both too dumb and too serious for that joke to work. "Don't go to the light! If you go, you won't come back. People don't."

"I'm stuck," I say. "I can't go anywhere. And the light is the sun! Not, like, the light of heaven! I was kidding. But, come on, Sandy. Come on. What are you guys doing up there? Help me."

"Kammie," Amanda Fassbender says, her face now in the gap next to Sandy's. "This is getting boring. Just, just, just . . . get out of there!"

"I CAN'T GET OUT," I shout. "I CAN'T MOVE!" Kandy appears alongside the others and all three girls stare down at me. It's hard to tell what their faces are doing. "GET HELP!" I add, helpfully. "PLEASE!" I don't want to be crying, but I can't stop it. There's snot and tears all over my face, mixing with the dust. I must look disgusting. It's like my face is pouring tears out all over the place without my say-­so. "I don't know what you're doing!" I hiccup. "Help me. I don't like it in here!"

"No one likes wells," Mandy says. "Except maybe snakes or lizards, and stuff like that."

"WHAT?" I yell. "WHAT?"

"Calm down. I was joking!" Mandy says. "Sort of. I mean, there probably aren't any snakes in there. . . ."

Kandy snort-­laughs. "There aren't!" she says. "Don't let Mandy freak you out."


I hope there aren't snakes down here. A well actually does seem like a place where a snake would like to live. Do snakes like to be cold? I can't remember. Maybe I never knew. I don't know much about snakes. They are either warm-­blooded or cold-­blooded, which means they either like to be cold or hate it. I shiver and pull my arms and legs tighter into my body, and I slip down again. Farther.



The little patch of light that was on the wall is gone now. There is nothing in front of me but shadows and darkness.

"STOP!" I yell at myself and somehow I do. I cross my feet at the ankles then uncross them. My feet wish they had something to stand on. My feet are desperate to stop my fall. I could fall forever. I could fall out the other side of the world.

"Don't go deeper!" yells Kandy, like it's a choice that I can make.

"Kandy," says Sandy, in a whisper so loud it echoes down into my ears and rubs up against them, Styrofoam-­sinister. "What if we can't get her out?"

"I can hear you," I say. My arms prickle with goose bumps. Whispering makes me think of wool that you are rubbing on your tongue. I want to spit but I can't, because it would just land on me.

"Um, OK," Kandy says. "We've got to go." She says it like she's leaving a conversation, as if it's yesterday afternoon and we're talking on the phone and I'm just going to sit here with the telephone pressed against my ear, waiting for her to come back. We have a landline now. Mom gave up her cell phone. It's like we didn't just move, we traveled back through time to 1975. In the kitchen, there's a patterned, squishy floor with gold flecks. There's a spot where you can sit where the sun comes in the window and makes a rectangle of sparkling light on the floor. That's where I was sitting yesterday, tracing patterns on the gold bits, when Kandy called to say that I could join her club if I passed the initiation.

This is the initiation.

I guess I'm not going to pass.

The heads disappear again. My own head hurts. My own head wants to disappear into the warm sunshininess of the Texan blue sky, to melt in the heat like a candle in a flame. But instead, my head's an ice cube, shivering and clattering away on top of my neck, my teeth rattling from the cold. My ears are ringing like they did after the Rory Devon concert that Maria Potts' parents took ten of us to for her birthday last May. Rory was so amazing. We were in the front row and we could see the sweat on his face. We could even feel it freckling our own faces like a creepy but awesome drizzle when he danced. It was basically the last time in my life that I was truly happy, even if for three days afterwards, my ears wouldn't stop ringing. I didn't shower for a week.

I swallow down some more crying and nearly choke to death on my own spit, which would actually be a sort of ironic way to die in a well, if ironic means what I think it means, which is "so pathetic that it's almost funny, but is actually tragic."

A bunch of pebbles and loose dirt come raining down onto my face and shoulders. Mandy's face appears. "Oh! You're still there," she deadpans, like maybe while they were gone, I just climbed out and went home.

"Yes, I am," I say. Where else would I be? I sneeze three more times. I can't not sneeze in groups of three. It's a thing of mine. But there is not enough room in here to both breathe and sneeze. My eyes hurt, my nose hurts, my throat hurts, and my lungs hurt, like I'm really for sure going to have an asthma attack and die.


  • A Top 10 Spring 2016 Kids’ Indie Next Pick

    “Darkly humorous . . . honest and forthcoming . . . [Kammie’s] reflections in the heart of darkness (both literally and figuratively) are where the story hits its stride . . . It’s in the quiet moments when Kammie is along with her thoughts—which become surreal hallucinations—that the book comes alive . . . original and truthful.”—New York Times Book Review
    “A brilliantly revealed, sometimes even funny, exploration of courage, the will to live, and the importance of being true to oneself. The catastrophe draws readers in, and the universality of spunky Kammie’s life-affirming journey will engage a wide audience. Moving, suspenseful, and impossible to put down.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
    “The inimitable voice of 11-year-old Kammie Summers is not one you will soon forget—in turns wise, sad, hopeful, frightened, hilarious. Rivers does a masterful job...”—Buffalo News

     “A hypnotic, utterly original novel . . . Guilt and forgiveness, truth and lies, family and self, friendship and social hierarchy--The Girl in the Well Is Me doesn’t so much tackle these subjects as absorb them into its natural fiber. Young readers will take in tough-and-tender Kammie as their own . . . and the suspense and anxiety of her situation will leave every reader breathless until the final page.”—Shelf Awareness
    “I dare you to pick up this riveting novel without reading straight through to its heart-stopping conclusion. Karen Rivers has penned a dazzling voice, at once hilarious, heartbreaking, and searingly honest. The Girl in the Well Is Me is a triumph.”—Katherine Applegate, Newbery Medal-winning author of The One and Only Ivan
    “A gripping story that doesn’t shy away from the dark places but explores them with heart, humor, and light.”—Kate Messner, author of All The Answers
    “Funny, surreal, occasionally heartbreaking…a compulsively readable story.” School Library Journal
    “The danger will grab readers quickly, and their inevitable investment in Kammie will keep them breathlessly engaged through to the conclusion, perhaps even in one sitting if they can get away with it.”—The Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books
    “This is a fascinatingly well told story that strongly reminded me of Libba Bray’s Going Bovine, but with a completely believable middle grade flavor.”—Teen Librarian Toolbox / School Library Journal
    “Superb . . . acrobatic . . . Karen Rivers is able to dive so seamlessly into the darker themes of growing up . . . Because of the tone and persistence of [protagonist] Kammie, the reader never loses faith that, although times may seem impossibly tough, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.”—Cleaver Magazine
    “It should strike a chord with its tween audience.”—Booklist

    “Interesting and well-written.” —San Francisco Book Review

On Sale
Feb 28, 2017
Page Count
224 pages

Karen Rivers

Karen Rivers

About the Author

Karen Rivers’s books have been nominated for a wide range of literary awards and have been published in multiple languages. When she’s not writing, reading, or teaching other people how to write, she can usu­ally be found hiking and taking photos in the forest that flourishes behind her tiny old house in Victoria, British Columbia, where she lives with her two kids, three dogs, and three birds. Find her online at and on Twitter: @karenrivers.

Learn more about this author