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By Katrina Leno
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 28, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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From the author of You Must Not Miss comes a haunting contemporary horror novel that explores themes of mental illness, rage, and grief, twisted with spine-chilling elements of Stephen King and Agatha Christie.Following her father’s death, Jane North-Robinson and her mom move from sunny California to the dreary, dilapidated old house in Maine where her mother grew up. All they want is a fresh start, but behind North Manor’s doors lurks a history that leaves them feeling more alone . . . and more tormented.
As the cold New England autumn arrives, and Jane settles in to her new home, she finds solace in old books and memories of her dad. She steadily begins making new friends, but also faces bullying from the resident “bad seed,” struggling to tamp down her own worst nature in response. Jane’s mom also seems to be spiraling with the return of her childhood home, but she won’t reveal why. Then Jane discovers that the “storage room” her mom has kept locked isn’t for storage at all—it’s a little girl’s bedroom, left untouched for years and not quite as empty of inhabitants as it appears . . .
Is it grief? Mental illness? Or something more . . . horrid?
There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
And when she was good,
She was very, very good,
But when she was bad, she was horrid.
—A nursery rhyme adapted from the poem “There Was a Little Girl” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
There was a little girl
She couldn’t remember the first book she had eaten.
What it had tasted like, how it had felt—the scratch of it as it slid down her throat.
She couldn’t remember why she’d done it. She must have been a baby, a toddler, ripping pages out of a picture book about a talking stuffed animal.
Had the smell of books calmed her down then, as it did now?
Outside, the rain pelted down angrily, it sounded like muffled gunshots on the roof of the bookstore, but inside, inside, surrounded by books, surrounded by the smell of them, she felt calm and tranquil, momentarily at ease, like the past five weeks had never happened.
They’d made it to Maine about thirty minutes ago but the rain had driven them off the highway and into this town with the strange name—Kennebunkport—and Ruth had pulled over and idled on the side of the road until Jane searched bookstore on her phone and found this one.
“We might as well,” Ruth had said. “I don’t want to go any farther until this lets up a little.”
She wasn’t used to driving in the rain—neither of them was. It didn’t rain like this in Los Angeles. If it rained at all, it was a delicate sprinkle that lasted ten or fifteen minutes and ended with a rainbow. Nothing as dramatic as this, sheets of water falling so thickly from the sky that Jane couldn’t see a foot outside the window.
The woman behind the counter was unpacking a box of paperbacks.
“Let me know if you need anything,” she’d said when they walked in. “Although we’ll run into each other soon enough in here.”
It was a tiny store, built in a one-car garage behind a big Victorian house. Jane walked down the center aisle, letting her fingers brush across the spines of books until she found one by Raymond Chandler, a collection of short stories called Killer in the Rain. She pulled it out and held it. The cover featured a woman in a sea of blue water, floating on her back, her hands outstretched over her head, one high heel on, one off.
Ruth squeezed by in the aisle and Jane showed it to her. Her mother wrinkled her nose.
“Because of the rain,” Jane said.
“I’ll be in true crime,” Ruth replied.
She slipped past Jane. Jane brought the book up to her nose and inhaled. It had a sweet, musty smell.
No, she couldn’t remember the first book she’d eaten, but she could remember the first book she’d eaten purposefully. And that was maybe more important.
Her tenth birthday. May 4. The book was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Jane had the same birthday as Alice Liddell. A happy coincidence she had locked away inside her heart when she’d first discovered it.
She liked to pretend, back then, that she and Alice shared more in common than just a birthday. That they might have been friends, if they’d grown up at the same time. That they might have been as close as sisters.
Jane had always wanted a sister.
She’d asked for a new bike for her tenth birthday, but her parents had gotten her a bright-blue scooter instead.
“You don’t need a new bike, monkey,” her father had said. “Your old one is just fine for now.”
And the scooter was fun; she’d ridden it up and down their street after dinner. But that night, back in her bedroom, getting ready for bed, she felt a dull throb of anger. She hadn’t asked for a scooter. She’d wanted a new bike with a basket and a bell. Her old bike didn’t have either of those things.
Her breath came quicker and quicker. She felt her face go hot. She felt this warm ball of energy forming in the pit of her stomach, this growing anger that was threatening to spill out of her.
She blinked back tears and stared at the book on her lap, and it was like a little light switch had gone off in her head, and she’d thought, Oh, I know.
And she tore off a corner from the first page and put it into her mouth and chewed it.
When she swallowed, she could feel it very distinctly traveling down her throat. She’d imagined she could even feel the tiniest thump as it hit her stomach.
The feeling it brought was like some sort of liquid calm. Like she was Alice, for real, but instead of growing bigger or smaller she grew less angry.
She tore off another little piece.
And bit by bit—
She ate it.
Just one page.
And the next night, one more.
And the next night, one more.
After one, she felt full. But not a belly full. A happy full. A warm and tingly full. Like the words had dissolved on her tongue and melted into her blood and fixed something inside her. Smoothed out the edges of her ten-year-old brain, all the silly things she got so mad about.
It took her a year to finish the entire book. A page every few nights. Sometimes none, if she was too tired or if she’d had a good day at school, if she was feeling happy.
After a year, she had been left with just the cover, nothing in between it but air.
For her eleventh birthday, she asked her parents to pay for a bookmaking course at the local community college.
She made a journal. Two hundred creamy white pages. She wrote in it as soon as it was finished, the night of her birthday.
I just turned eleven. I like eleven more than ten. Ten felt very IMPORTANT. (She underlined the word important three times.) Eleven feels more manageable. Here are some things about me. My best friend is Salinger Lane. I’m in the fifth grade, and we have our own lockers for the first time. My favorite class is English. I don’t want to get my period. Julie got her period in class and EVERYBODY laughed at her. I wore jeans to school last week and I cuffed them because my mom said they looked good like that and then Brenna and Andrea made fun of me. I don’t know if I’ll keep this journal forever. But for now it’s nice to have somewhere to say things I don’t want to say to Sal or to my mom. Anyway, I’m Jane North-Robinson. I’ll write more later, maybe.
She did write more later, most nights before she went to bed, and for a while that had been enough.
But then it wasn’t enough.
And the second book she had eaten was Peter Pan.
She finished it just as she was filling up the last pages in her first journal.
So she made a new journal.
And on and on and on.
“Have you read The Big Sleep?” asked the owner of the bookstore. Jane blinked herself back to the present and forced a smile.
“Of course,” she said. “Chandler’s first book. It’s genius.”
“Ahh, a mystery fan,” the woman said. “You’ve come to the right place. We only sell mystery books here. A little true crime in the corner and some thrillers thrown in to round everything out. I’ll let in a couple horror books, but they have to be very good.”
“I don’t have a copy of this,” Jane said, holding up Killer in the Rain.
“Appropriate pick for a day like today.”
“Have you read everything in here?” Ruth asked, stepping behind Jane.
“Of course. I won’t sell anything I haven’t read myself. Wouldn’t feel ethical. I’m Paula. Are you visiting from somewhere?”
“Ruth and Jane,” Ruth replied. “We’ve just moved to Maine, actually. From Los Angeles.”
“Some great mystery books set in Los Angeles. The Big Sleep being one of them, of course. Lots of true crime, too. Are you settling in Kennebunkport?”
“We have a bit farther to go,” Ruth replied. “Bells Hollow.”
Paula smiled. “Bells Hollow. Sure.”
“You’ve heard of it?” Ruth asked.
“My two areas of expertise: mystery books and Maine. All these little towns have mysteries, you know. I could tell you a thing or two about Bells Hollow.”
“No. Thank you,” Ruth said quickly. Then her face softened. “We should probably get going. It sounds like the rain is letting up a bit.”
“I’ll get this, thanks,” Jane said, handing Paula Killer in the Rain.
Paula slid behind the counter and Jane spotted an end shelf of books she hadn’t noticed before—Agatha Christie.
“Oh, here we go,” Ruth said, smiling as Jane started pulling out paperbacks. “Agatha Christie’s number-one fan right here.”
“Poirot or Marple?” Paula asked, referring to Agatha Christie’s two most famous characters.
“Poirot, of course,” Jane said.
“My kind of girl,” Paula replied.
“I’ll get this, too.” Jane put a copy of Destination Unknown on the counter. “Can’t pass up this cover.” It featured a robed figure standing in the middle of a confusing background, all swirls of color and shapes. It looked like something Dalí would paint.
“Do you judge a book by its cover?” Paula asked as she picked up the Agatha Christie book and recorded its price.
“Guilty,” Jane said.
“Sometimes you can’t help it,” Paula said, winking. “Especially when they’re as good as this one.” Paula slid the two books across the counter and said, “Nine fifty-seven.”
Jane pulled her credit card out of her wallet and handed it to her. Ruth opened the front door and stepped outside.
“It’s definitely slowed down,” she called back.
Paula took the credit card and ran it through her machine, then paused to look at the name.
“North,” she said softly. “That’s an interesting surname.”
Jane shrugged. “My mom’s side.”
Paula handed the credit card back to Jane. Something had come over her face, a sort of shadow. “You be careful up there,” she said, just quiet enough so Ruth wouldn’t hear. “In Bells Hollow. These old towns all have histories. Some of them are darker than others.”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks.” Jane took the card and the books. She opened her mouth to say something else, but Ruth stuck her head back in the store.
“Come on, honey, let’s make a run for it,” she said.
With a last glance back at Paula—who was still looking at her strangely—Jane shoved the books inside her jacket and followed her mom to the car.
Her stomach gave a weird little flop when she passed the U-Haul trailer they’d pulled all the way from California. Her entire life was in there. Well—what was left of it. Six years of journals. Her sizable collection of mystery books, largely made up of Agatha Christies, diligently collected over the years, old and fragile pulp paperbacks she adored for their often-silly covers and turquoise- and red-edged pages. Whatever clothes she could squeeze into her allotted three boxes. They’d been driving for a week, but it hadn’t gotten less strange seeing the entirety of what they owned shoved into this tiny trailer.
Ruth had cried when they’d reached the large blue sign that said, in three-foot-high letters: WELCOME TO MAINE.
She’d pulled over in front of it and Jane had said, “I guess we’re here?”
“Maine is a big state. It will take another few hours.”
“Hours,” Jane repeated.
WELCOME TO MAINE.
And then it had started pouring.
Jane let herself into the passenger seat and tossed her new books in the back.
“She was kind of weird, huh?” Jane said.
“She runs a mystery bookshop out of her garage,” Ruth said. “I think ‘weird’ is exactly what she’s going for.”
“You’re probably right.”
Jane looked at her mother, then back at herself.
They were both a little worn and rumpled around the edges from a weeklong drive across the country. A week’s worth of diner meals and takeout and fast food that had left Jane’s body feeling heavy and slow. Too many carbs, not enough vegetables. Too much coffee and not enough water. Too much time sitting, feeling shaky and off whenever she had to walk somewhere. Rotating the same two T-shirts and the same two pairs of jeans. She was ready to be out of the car for good. She was ready to burn the car. And the clothes.
“Fuck,” Ruth whispered next to her. Then, “I’m sorry. It just hits me sometimes.”
Jane understood exactly, because it just hit her sometimes, too, even though it had been five weeks since her father’s heart attack and four weeks since the funeral and three weeks since Ruth had revealed they were broke and two weeks since she had announced they were moving across the country and one week since they had set off, all their worldly possessions sold except the precious little they had managed to cram into the trailer.
“Fuck is right,” Jane said, and for a moment she felt washed in anger, a sticky, red-hot anger that threatened to explode out of her like a scream. But she couldn’t lose it now. She had to keep it together, for her mother’s sake. She took a slow, quiet breath and said, in a voice that fell just short of any real emotion, “We’ll feel better when we get there. Just a few more hours.”
“A few more hours,” Ruth repeated.
They hadn’t been using GPS on their cell phones; instead Ruth had stopped at a gas station in every new state they drove through and bought a map, and sat in the car for a moment studying it, planning the route that would bring them farther and farther away from California, the only home Jane had ever known (the only home she had ever wanted to know, and for that reason just the sight of a paper map would, for the rest of her life, create an aching, lonely feeling in the pit of her stomach; she had learned to hate maps, to hate street signs, to hate the mile markers that appeared and then disappeared in the passenger-side mirror).
And so they’d made the entire trip, sometimes listening to podcasts, sometimes to the radio, sometimes to books on tape, sometimes to nothing at all, because something would end and neither Jane nor Ruth would realize it was over because neither Jane nor Ruth had really been listening to it anyway.
But silence in a car wasn’t really silence at all. The whoosh of opposite traffic. The errant horn. The pavement disappearing underneath them. The engine roaring away. The soft huff of air coming out of the vents. It all blended together to create something almost like music.
WELCOME TO MAINE.
Jane didn’t feel welcome at all.
Instead, she felt ambushed—like even the week’s worth of driving hadn’t been enough to prepare her for the inevitability of actually arriving.
And here is something she hadn’t anticipated: Every mile they put between themselves and California felt like it was bringing them further and further from her father.
Jane had loved her father—she’d been devastated when her mother had shown up halfway through second period on the second day of her senior year, reeking of cigarettes (a habit she only returned to on the darkest of days), somehow holding in her tears until they had made it back to the car, putting both hands on the steering wheel but not starting the ignition, staring straight ahead as Jane shrunk smaller and smaller in her own seat. Because somehow she knew what had happened. The details were fuzzy, unknown to her, but the truth was evident, loud, painful: Something had happened to her father.
“Mom?” she’d said, and when Ruth looked up at her, it had felt like her mother was returning from a long journey—her face was clouded over; it took her eyes a full minute to focus.
“Jane, I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry, but something happened. Your father… Jane. Your father had a heart attack. Sweetheart. I’m so sorry. He’s gone.”
Ruth had said more, but Jane hadn’t heard a word of it; her ears were overcome by the sound of her own blood sloshing angrily through her veins, the sound of crashing waves, persistent and loud.
“What do you mean?” she said finally, interrupting her mother, her voice almost a shout. “What do you mean he’s gone?”
“I’m so sorry, Jane. I’m so sorry.”
It seemed like that was the only thing Ruth was capable of saying—I’m so sorry—and each repetition only served to make Jane angrier and angrier. She was aware that her emotions were confused, that she should be feeling sad, not angry, not resentful, not hateful, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it; she felt the way she felt, and she couldn’t do anything to stop it, to correct it.
“But what do you mean?” she’d screamed at her mother, and Ruth had stopped apologizing, Ruth had rested her forehead on the steering wheel and begun to sob.
Jane couldn’t help feeling a pang of that same resentment, now, that same anger, that same rushing in her ears, as she sat, listening to her mother trying not to cry. Because a few days after Greer had died, Ruth had come back from the lawyer’s office quiet, smelling like smoke again, and it took almost a week for her to finally tell Jane the truth: They were broke.
It seemed that lately it was taking longer and longer for Ruth to tell Jane the truth. Full minutes in the car to choke out what had happened to Greer. Days to reveal they were broke. Another week to mention the house in Maine, a house Jane had never heard of before, a house they were now barreling toward at sixty-five miles per hour.
What else had Ruth not yet worked up the courage to tell her daughter?
Greer Robinson (Ruth had kept her maiden name of North; Jane was a North-Robinson) had been a loving, devoted husband and father—but he had shared that one quality with his wife, that propensity for dishonesty. It had always been his dream to start his own business; their life as a family of three had been marked with financial ups and downs as Greer left steady, stable jobs to work for various start-ups that inevitably failed after six months or a year. Eventually, he’d taken their entire savings—apart from a few thousand dollars Ruth had in a separate account—and invested it in a business that had failed very quickly. All the money was gone. He had stopped paying the mortgage on the house months ago. He hadn’t told his wife about any of it.
So Ruth had come up with a plan: They would sell their house in California, barely break even, and move across the country to her mother’s estate in Maine. Emilia North had been dead for two years, and she had left the New England house to Ruth in her will.
“We’ll only have to pay property taxes and insurance,” Ruth had told Jane, like Jane had any idea what those two things meant or what they might cost. “We can manage that. I’ll get a job, and we’ll manage.”
“Why can’t we just sell that house and stay here?” Jane had asked.
“It needs too much work. It would never pass inspection. And there aren’t any mortgage payments. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but I just don’t have the money to sell a house like that.”
Jane glanced over at her mother now. Ruth had been acting stranger and stranger the closer they got to Maine, and now here they were, one hour in, and Jane wondered if she should offer to drive.
But then Ruth took a deep breath, a purposeful breath, and when she looked over at her daughter, her eyes were dry and wide.
“Ready for this?”
“No,” Jane responded bluntly. But she smiled a little. A sad smile that fooled no one.
“Me neither,” Ruth said.
She pulled out of the parking lot.
And when they got back on the highway, Jane almost wished she felt something—a jolt, a shock, a bolt of lightning—just as she wished she’d felt something when they passed the state line into Maine—but it was just the same as every single mile since California.
Just another mile marker disappearing into the distance behind her.
It took just over four hours from Kennebunkport, with a bathroom break and a stop for lunch and a gas top-off and two cups of cheap coffee so hot Jane couldn’t even take a sip for fifteen minutes.
They passed a sign that said: WELCOME TO BELLS HOLLOW. EST. 1680. “LITTLE PLACE IN THE FOREST.”
“Little Place in the Forest,” Jane read. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“A lot of these old towns have slogans like that,” Ruth replied.
“There’s a Blueberry Capital of the World not far from here.”
“I don’t like blueberries,” Jane said, perhaps because she was determined not to like anything about Maine, including any of its seasonal fruits.
Ruth smiled. “Me neither.”
Another five miles down a quiet, tree-lined road and Ruth slowed the car and made a right-hand turn onto a street with no street sign. Jane thought maybe Bells Hollow was so small that it didn’t even need street signs. Maybe the postal workers knew everybody by name. Maybe they didn’t even have mail here.
They drove for a half mile more. There were only a few houses on the street, set far back from the road and from one another, big houses with big yards and big, long driveways. Each lot was cut out of dense woods, the dark trees skirting the edges of the property lines.
“Little Place in the Forest,” Jane whispered.
They were slowing down; Ruth gripped the steering wheel tightly, and gently eased the car to the side of the road. They were at the very end of the street. Jane looked past her mother out the driver’s-side window and there it was—North Manor, a house Jane hadn’t even known existed until her mother had slid an old Polaroid across the kitchen counter that night two weeks ago.
Like the other houses on the street, North Manor was set back from the road, a large colonial-style mansion with three gables at the front and four white columns supporting a white-railed balcony. The nine windows at the front had black shutters. There were two brick chimneys at either end of the house, and a faded brick path leading up to the front door.
In the Polaroid, the house had been pristine in its beauty.
Now, though, it was barely recognizable as the same place. All but two of the windows were smashed. One was boarded up completely. Two shutters hung at haphazard angles, and the grass was overrun with dandelions and looked like it would come up to about Jane’s shins. The brick path was littered with patches of weeds that had pushed aside the stone and made everything uneven.
“Jeez,” Jane whispered.
They hadn’t gotten out of the car. Jane didn’t even think her mother had looked up at the house yet; she was staring very purposefully at the center of the steering wheel.
Ruth blinked rapidly and looked over at her daughter, keeping her eyes down. “What does it look like?”
“You want an honest assessment?”
“It sort of looks like one big tetanus trap.”
“Okay,” Ruth said, nodding.
“Are you going to look?”
“I’m going to look.”
A few seconds passed. Jane saw her mother’s lips moving quickly, silently—some private countdown she didn’t want to intrude on.
Then Ruth took a breath, lifted her eyes, and looked out the window at the place where she’d grown up.
Jane had only ever lived in their small house in the Valley. She couldn’t imagine leaving it, like her mother had, and returning so many years later to find it in near ruins.
“You okay?” Jane asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Ruth said, sighing. “Look at this place. It’s a mess. I should have come back here so much sooner.”
“Did all this happen in two years? Since Grandma died?”
Ruth frowned. “I don’t think your grandmother was in her right mind the last few years of her life. I think she just let it go.”
“But it’s okay? For us to live here?” Jane asked. “Without, you know, contracting a staph infection or something?”
Ruth laughed. “The windows are the main thing. I called ahead and had them measured. They’ll start to replace them in the next few days, before winter sets in.”
The phrase winter sets in was entirely alien to Jane. In Los Angeles, winter meant it was sixty-five degrees out for a few weeks and people leaped at the chance to wear too-heavy jackets and floppy beanies. She had seen snow on a family trip to Tahoe when she was twelve, and she remembered it being exciting at first—but that excitement had worn off when her boots soaked through and she’d lost feeling in her toes.
Jane opened the car door and slid out. It was colder than she’d expected; there was a bite to the air that even the chilliest nights in California hadn’t managed to carry, and there was a breeze that blew Jane’s waist-length, wavy blond hair around her face. She caught it in her hands and trapped it in a low ponytail.
Jane heard Ruth’s door open and shut, and a few moments later, she was standing next to her, staring up at the house.
“It’s freezing,” Jane complained. “It’s only the beginning of October! Isn’t this supposed to be fall? I thought fall was, like, a gentle breeze and a pumpkin-spice latte.”
“That’s September,” Ruth replied. “October is basically early winter. Although we can still get you a latte, if you want.”
“Maybe later,” Jane mumbled, just as a gust of wind blew across the front yard, raising goose bumps on her arms and the back of her neck.
Ruth put her arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “I know none of this is what we wanted. If there was any way we could have stayed in California, honey…”
Praise for Horrid:
Part of YALSA's 2021 Best Fiction for Young Adults List"The author crafts spooky set pieces and an intriguing cast of supporting characters...serving up an explosive finale.... A deliberately paced thriller with a frightful twist."—Kirkus
"Leno evokes a Stephen King-like creepiness that draws readers deeper into the story with each turn of the page.... [A] great choice for those interested in a gripping but speedy read.... Hand this to teens who binge-watched Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House."—School Library Journal
"Leno (You Must Not Miss) permeates each scene with delicious frights.... Poetic descriptions create an uncanny atmosphere, and nods to cozy bookstores and classic mysteries will charm bibliophiles as Leno effectively mixes terror with grief."—Publishers Weekly
"This is movie-ready Gothic horror, with a deliciously foreboding setting, an increasingly unreliable narrator, and a Mommie Dearest plotline that carefully and effectively straddles the line between campy and disturbing...the pacing strikes just the right rhythm, moving erratically as Jane becomes more upset but pausing on the truly terrifying elements.... Jane may be a fan of Agatha Christie, but this will more likely please readers of Shirley Jackson."—BCCB
"Leno (You Must Not Miss, 2019) blends Agatha Christie and Shirley Jackson for a narrative that ranges from unsettling to genuinely terrifying. A sudden ending will leave readers gasping, and the deliberate descent through one girl's psyche is undeniably affecting."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Sep 28, 2021
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers