You Must Not Miss


By Katrina Leno

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One of Us Is Lying meets Carrie in this suspenseful story of friendship, family, and revenge.
Magpie Lewis started writing in her yellow notebook the day after her family self-destructed. The day her father ruined her mother's life. The day Magpie's sister, Eryn, skipped town and left her to fend for herself. The day of Brandon Phipp's party.
Now Magpie is called a slut in the hallways of her high school, her former best friend won't speak to her, and she spends her lunch period with a group of misfits who've all been as socially exiled as she has. And so, feeling trapped and forgotten, Magpie retreats to her notebook, dreaming up a magical place called Near.
Near is perfect – a place where her father never cheated, her mother never drank, and Magpie's own life never derailed so suddenly. She imagines Near so completely, so fully, that she writes it into existence, right in her own backyard. At first, Near is a peaceful escape, but soon it becomes something darker, somewhere nightmares lurk and hidden truths come to light. Soon it becomes a place where Magpie can do anything she wants…even get her revenge.
You Must Not Miss is an intoxicating, twisted tale of magic, menace, and the monsters that live inside us all.



The smell of chlorine had always reminded Magpie Lewis of summer, and summer in turn reminded her of a much happier time, a time before her life had gone so completely wrong. Last summer her sister had been home, her father had been discreet, her mother had been sober, and Magpie had spent three untouchable months on a pizza pool float in their small aboveground pool while her former best friend, Allison, had floated alongside her on a white swan. The swan was full of razor-blade slashes now, and the pizza was deflated. When Magpie put her mouth on the pizza float’s nozzle and blew, she tasted chemicals, sunscreen, sweat, regret. She pulled back and tried to spit away the taste.

Magpie’s skin tingled where she’d spilled some of the powdered chlorine on the back of her hand. She’d searched the internet on her phone. (will powdered chlorine on skin fucking kill me hopefully; the answer, regretfully: no.) She had run her hand under the garden hose for a few minutes. The water was freezing, so now her hand was numb instead of tingling, which she considered a slight improvement.

She found an old tire pump in the garage and took it to the backyard, where she sat cross-legged on the grass. The pizza float was faded from three months of sitting out every day last summer. She thought she could almost see a Magpie-shaped pattern of more vibrant color where her body had blocked the sun. She’d worn 50 SPF sunblock and hadn’t tanned at all.

You were not supposed to get into a pool immediately after adding chlorine, but this was May 1, and it was unseasonably hot in New England, practically July-warm, and besides, Magpie would hardly touch the water at all from her perch on top of the float. If she were honest with herself, she would admit she was hoping very much that the pool or the float or some combination of the two would act as a time machine and shoot her backward to a day when her heart did not constantly feel so wilted and sick.

Magpie hoisted the inflated pizza float over the side of the pool, then she climbed up the ladder to the small, raised pool platform and lowered herself gingerly onto the float. She removed her straw hat from her head and placed it over her face and breathed in deeply, the smell of chlorine, the sharp knife of it, the hot burn. She’d put too much in, but the pool hadn’t been taken care of in the past year and it was slightly green with who knew what—moss or fungus or whatever.

“Algae,” she remembered suddenly, and spoke the word aloud, her voice so soft that it got trapped inside the sun hat and reverberated there for a moment. Through the cracks in the woven hat, Magpie could see sun, blue skies, trees. There was one month left of her sophomore year of high school, and she had decided, after a mountain of evidence to support it, that the entire world was a joke.

But the sun felt good and the pizza float drifted lazily and knocked gently into the sides of the pool and there was a warm breeze and Magpie felt, momentarily, a cautious sort of peace.

She let her hand dip over the side of the pool float and linger, wrist-deep, in the cool water; then she remembered the fresh chlorine and took it out again.

Inside, the house phone rang. Only a handful of people knew and used that number, and most of them were telemarketers. She knew her mother, Ann Marie, was inside, drunk early and watching TV, but the phone rang a dozen or so times, then went silent, unanswered. Ann Marie had disabled the voice mail months ago, but Magpie’s father still called every day at six o’clock, waiting for someone to pick up. Magpie liked to imagine what he might say if he could leave a message. It would be in a low, pleading voice. It would drift out of the house and slink over the grass and crawl up the side of the pool and swim across the water right into Magpie’s ear.

He would say something simple, something like:

Ann Marie, please call me back. Please talk to me. Please give me a chance to explain.

What this translated to, roughly, was:

Ann Marie, I am sorry that our daughter caught me having sex with your sister in our bedroom six months ago while you were out of town visiting friends and Magpie was supposed to be at school but instead was skipping third period to root around in your bedside table for our little bit of weed so she and Allison could get stoned and eat four bags of BBQ potato chips. I am sorry for how naked I was, and for how naked your sister was, and for how long we stood looking at our daughter/niece not knowing what to say, not knowing even how to hide ourselves. It was as if time hiccupped and got stuck, and the three of us could not figure out how to undo it, how to get it moving again. Ann Marie, I am sorry for the image of my naked, semierect dick that will forever be emblazoned on the insides of the eyelids of our youngest daughter. Ann Marie, please call me back. Please talk to me. Please give me a chance to explain.

A crash from inside broke Magpie’s daydream; this was Ann Marie throwing the phone against the wall. But it was the oldest and sturdiest phone known to man, and it would inevitably survive this minor inconvenience, and Magpie would pick it up later and piece it back together, and the whole charade would repeat tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and on and on into infinity.

Magpie spent enough time on the pool float for the sun to go down and her mother to pass out on the couch with the TV on too loud, then she toweled off on the swim platform and went inside.

The house she shared with her mother on Pine Street was dark, blinds pulled tightly closed, heavy blackout curtains hung at almost every window. Air-conditioning units blew stale, chilly air that raised goose bumps on her skin every time she got too close.

She had been making herself dinner for six months with little variation, because food did not interest her much; she ate it so she did not lose too much weight and raise the suspicions of the school guidance counselor, whose own daughter’s kidneys failed after a slow burn with anorexia. The school guidance counselor was now very obsessed with the weights of the students who went to Farther High School, and she regularly roamed the hallways, peering at bodies, looking for too-prominent bone structures: clavicles and elbows that pulled at skin until it turned three shades lighter than it ought to have been.

Magpie set a pot to boil on the stove and got a box of macaroni and cheese out of the cabinet. They were out of milk and butter so it would be dry and the powdered cheese would clump together in little tumors.

She went and muted the TV. Ann Marie slept noisily on the couch: big, raking breaths that shook the pictures on the living-room walls. Sweating on the coffee table within arm’s reach of her, there was a large tumbler of vodka and ice because it looked like water and they could both pretend, if they wanted to, that it was water. Magpie rarely got close enough to the glass to smell it, but she could smell her mother, who hadn’t showered that morning and bled pure ethanol from every pore. It made Magpie’s nose burn, even worse than the chlorine.

When her dinner was ready, she ate it standing up in the kitchen, straight from the pot, with the only clean utensil in the house: the wooden spoon she’d used to stir everything together. The macaroni tasted like cardboard dusted with dry sawdust, but somehow that was comforting to her, a familiar taste, something very small that she could rely on.

For lunch every day Magpie bought a greasy grilled cheese sandwich and a small container of apple juice, and for breakfast there was sometimes a spoonful or two of cottage cheese if she remembered to eat it, if it hadn’t gone green with mold.

She hadn’t had vegetables in a while.

Magpie opened the fridge and found broccoli so covered in a sickly white film that she almost couldn’t identify what it was—just a tiny spot of green remained. It did not occur to her to throw it out.

“There aren’t any vegetables,” she whispered into the fridge. Then she shut the door and trapped her voice inside to cool.

Magpie always arrived at school early. This was for two reasons: She wanted to be out of the house before her mother got up, and she wanted to get to her locker before Allison, whose own locker was next to Magpie’s.

She removed every single book that she would need throughout the day so she wouldn’t have to return to her locker until thirty minutes after the last bell rang, which allowed her to give Allison a wide berth, ensuring Magpie wouldn’t see her after school. Her backpack groaned audibly with the weight. Her back groaned audibly with the weight.

She went to her first class, English, and found it predictably empty. Magpie liked predictability; she liked that Mr. James arrived only five minutes before class every day and that she would have the darkened classroom to herself for forty blissful, quiet minutes. She sat near a window in the back and pulled out the homework she was supposed to have done over the weekend, staring blurrily at the syllabus as she struggled to bring it into focus.

Read the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. Answer the following study questions:

Why does Connie leave with Arnold Friend?

What is the significance of the name Arnold Friend?

What is the significance of Connie’s obsessive hair brushing?

What is the meaning of literally anything?

Magpie squinted and read question four again. It dissolved and reformed in front of her eyes into something that made more sense.

Magpie hadn’t read the story. She removed her English textbook from her backpack and opened to it.

Her eyes refused to work properly.

She couldn’t manage even a single sentence.

So Magpie pulled a spiral-ring notebook from her backpack, a cheery yellow notebook that stood in stark contrast to the dark cloud that hung permanently around her. In ink, on the top right corner of the cover, she had written one word. Near.

The notebook was well-worn and used; the yellow had faded and peeled around the edges, revealing the cardboard underneath. Magpie had been writing in it for months—six months, actually. She’d picked it up the morning after she’d walked in on her father and her aunt. She’d written the word—Near—on the cover, then she had turned to the first page and scrawled: I wish I lived somewhere else. A tiny perfect place. A town called Near with no people, no traffic, no noise. Just a green sweeping hill and grass so bright that it’s almost lime.

She opened now to an empty page somewhere in the middle, the first one not completely filled with mostly neat tiny handwriting, and she wrote: In Near it is always warm enough to go swimming.

In Near I always feel like I am floating.

In Near the water is as warm as a bath.

And then she heard someone set their bag down on the front desk. It was five minutes till class and Mr. James was right on time.

“Good morning, Margaret,” he said. She closed the yellow notebook and slid it into her backpack. Mr. James walked over to her desk and tapped the English book. “Ah, refreshing your memory? What did you think about that one? Dark, I know.”

Magpie didn’t know what she thought about it because she hadn’t read it, so instead of answering, she tried not to make eye contact.

Mr. James tilted his head, looked at her with what could only be described as careful optimism. “Margaret?”

“I’m sorry,” Magpie said. She struggled halfheartedly to come up with some sort of excuse, but her mind was blank, a large white expanse of nothingness.

“Margaret, did you not do the assigned reading? You really can’t afford to miss another homework credit.”

“I can do it tonight,” she said.

“I don’t allow late assignments, Margaret. We’ve been over this.”

“I can do it in study hall.”

“But you had the entire weekend—what excuse can you possibly have for not reading one short story?”

What excuse could she have?

But even if she had been able to think of one, she didn’t get a chance to use it—the warning bell had sounded and her classmates were filing diligently into the room, filling up the space, taking all the air. Magpie lowered her head and tried very hard to get enough to breathe.

Lunch. A grilled cheese sandwich that dripped grease onto her lunch tray.

She always used to sit with Allison. Back then, she never knew who else she would find at the table. The occupants constantly changed as people fell in and out of Allison’s favor.

A quick glance at the table now showed people Magpie once considered friends—Elisabeth, Nicole, Brittany—eating and laughing together.

Six months ago she had chosen a new table. One that was across the cafeteria from Allison’s. She’d seen the empty chair and asked if she could sit there.

Brianna had said, “It’s a free country, girl.”

Luke had said, “You’re Mags, right?”

Clare had said, “Welcome to the Goonies; are you cool with blood sacrifices?”

And Ben had said nothing but shifted his chair to the side a little to indicate that she could sit next to him.

They had accepted her, she knew, because they each had a past.

Brianna had gotten her period in class one day as a freshman and bled through her jean shorts and was theretofore banned from all civilized conversations because everyone knew periods must be kept quiet and denied at all costs.

Luke had been dating the blondest cheerleader on the squad until he’d come out as bisexual and started dating a quarterback on one of Farther’s rival football teams.

Clare’s father had killed himself when they were all in middle school and thus became something to avoid, as if grief were perhaps contagious.

Ben had transitioned to male sometime last year, to the acceptance of few outside of that small group.

And Magpie.

Whose transgressions against Farther High School were too egregious to list.

Or at least that’s what Allison had said.

And people listened to Allison.

Her version of events was so convincing that it sometimes confused even Magpie, who’d been there.

Magpie had sat between Ben and Brianna ever since because she did not believe, like the rest of the school, that there was very much to worry about regarding transgender people and people with periods.

She ripped her grilled cheese into two pieces, then four, then eight.

“Do you want this?” Ben asked, handing her some sort of yogurt in a tube. “I’ve told my mom these are disgusting, but she keeps buying them.”

Magpie took the yogurt tube and turned it over slowly. The flavor was bodacious blueberry.

“You think it’s disgusting, but you want me to have it?” Magpie asked. She’d been trying to make something of a joke, but it ended up just sounding a little rude.

“I’ll take it,” Brianna said, and plucked it out of Magpie’s fingers.

“What about that short story for Mr. James? Fucking dark, huh?” Clare said.

“I would read whatever Mr. James wanted me to read,” Luke said. “I would read his grocery list.”

“Gross, you can have him,” Brianna said, rolling her eyes. “I don’t see what the fuss is about.”

“You can’t deny the smolderiness of those eyes,” Clare said, sighing into her container of applesauce.

Magpie didn’t contribute; she didn’t really have much of an opinion about Mr. James’s looks. He was just another teacher who assigned homework she didn’t do.

“You should eat something,” Ben whispered to Magpie, leaning closely. “Mrs. Henderson is on the prowl.”

Magpie looked around the cafeteria; sure enough, the school guidance counselor was walking from table to table examining lunch choices.

Magpie took an exaggerated bite of her sandwich.

“Thanks,” she mumbled to Ben.

“You’re welcome. How’s your day so far?”

Magpie looked at him. Ben had one of those open, honest faces. Everything was laid out on the table with him. Magpie liked that.

“I’m tired,” she responded. She hadn’t slept much the night before. She had lain in bed for hours and stared at the ceiling and felt the weight of the night as if it were something you could put on a scale and measure.

“You look tired,” Ben said. “Here.” He handed her the rest of his coffee. Magpie hadn’t really drunk coffee before meeting Ben, but now he often shared his with her. She had a sip and felt the warmth flow almost dramatically down her chest into her stomach.

She had sat at this table and known these people for only six months, but in that time, she had become comfortable with them. They were acutely aware of the unfairness of the world, of Farther High, of their own unique circumstances. They didn’t know Magpie’s full story, but they had all heard the whispers that followed her down every hallway: slut.

“Thanks,” Magpie said again, about the coffee. Ben knocked his shoulder into hers.

“You’re welcome, Mags,” he said.

Different names for different people.

To teachers: Margaret.

To this table: Mags.

To herself, her mom, her dad, her sister, Allison:


Ben and Magpie both had history after lunch, so they walked together, taking a very roundabout way that Ben never questioned (to avoid Allison’s locker). Magpie hadn’t known Ben well before she’d switched lunch tables, but now she might call them friends—even though they generally saw each other only in the cafeteria and the hallways that connected the cafeteria to history class.

They walked in silence for a minute until they reached a water fountain where Ben paused to have a sip.

When he straightened up, he said, “Have you thought about Ms. Peel’s assignment?”

Magpie hadn’t paid attention in history for six months; she couldn’t confidently say whether they were in World War I or World War II or the Cold War or maybe no war at all, maybe just the California Gold Rush or something.

“Assignment?” she repeated.

“The final project,” Ben said. He waited a moment, but Magpie’s eyes showed no recognition. “She’s been talking about this since January, you really don’t…?”

“Oh, yeah, of course,” Magpie said. It was the safest answer. Ben looked relieved.

“Well, I was wondering if you wanted to be my partner?” he asked.


“Did you have an idea for the topic?”

“I dunno. Maybe you should choose.”

“How about… Amelia Earhart? It fits the criteria, you know, women who’ve positively impacted history.”

“That sounds great.”

“Cool,” he said. And then—quietly enough so she almost didn’t hear him—he added, “Hey… is something going on?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re usually quiet. And that’s fine! It’s just today you seem a little quieter than usual.”

He stepped to the side as a senior boy Magpie didn’t know paused to use the water fountain. He took a sip, pulled away, looked from Magpie to Ben, then said, “I wouldn’t drink after her if I were you.”

Magpie felt her cheeks grow hot as the boy melted away into the crowded hallway. Ben looked as if he wanted to say something else but didn’t know quite where to start.

Finally, he cleared his throat, and said, “That was… I’m sorry.”

“Oh, it’s fine. It’s totally fine. That was tame.”

“Really? People are still… saying stuff?”

Magpie laughed quietly, a laugh that was more like a scoff. “I know you hear them,” she said after a second.

“I don’t listen,” he said earnestly. “I learned a long time ago not to listen.”

“But you still hear.”

He smirked a little at that. “Fair enough,” he said. “I still hear. But I don’t listen.”

“You might as well,” she said with a shrug. “Everything they say about me is true.”

Ben tilted his head. As if he was looking at her from another angle. Then he frowned slightly, and said, “Well. I don’t believe that for a second.”

When the last bell rang, Magpie waited thirty full minutes in her algebra classroom, then went to her locker. As usual, she left all her books at school. Her backpack was mostly empty; it contained only her house key, the yellow notebook, and her cell phone, a pay-per-use thing she hadn’t used in weeks.

She walked to the grocery store.

There were two grocery stores in town, Baker Farms and Kent’s.

Allison worked at Baker Farms.

Magpie went to Kent’s.

She had her mother’s credit card in her back pocket. She knew exactly how much was on the card because she opened the bright-red bills that came in the mail every month. She paid the minimum with money stolen from her mother’s wallet, just enough so they wouldn’t turn off the card. There were many little obstacles to figure out now that Ann Marie had given up all her responsibilities, but Magpie was navigating them deftly.

Her sister, Eryn—

Magpie didn’t like to think about her sister.

But Eryn hadn’t been interested in navigating those obstacles anymore. Eryn had told Magpie once, a year or so ago, how bad it used to be. Eryn was six years older than Magpie, and Magpie had been too young to remember the last time her mother had been drinking.

Eryn had said that if their mother ever started drinking again, she would leave.

Eryn, true to her word, had left.

She wasn’t physically that far away—she was a senior at Fairview College, barely thirty miles from Farther—but it felt as if she were in another country, on another planet. It felt as if Eryn had died and nobody had thought to tell Magpie when the funeral was.

She didn’t know what was worse.

Her father calling every night at six o’clock to remind her of his naked pink body standing up with everything hanging everywhere, how he had tried to hug her after he’d finally put his clothes back on, his shirt clinging to his damp skin, his hair falling limply around his face, tears pouring down his cheeks and apologies pouring from his mouth.

Or her sister, who never called.

Or her sister, who changed her phone number.

Or her sister, whose last words to Magpie were: “I’m sorry, okay? But I cannot sacrifice my mental health just because you’re not old enough to leave yet. Call me when you’re eighteen.”

Magpie consulted the mental list of groceries that she kept folded up in some easily accessible part of her brain. A dozen or so boxes of macaroni and cheese, milk, butter. Dish soap.

But how was Magpie supposed to call Eryn when she was eighteen if Magpie didn’t know Eryn’s number? Would Eryn come back for her?

She remembered the wilted, smelly broccoli in the otherwise bare refrigerator. She couldn’t remember how long it had been since she’d eaten something green. She vaguely heard some employee ask her if she needed help finding anything, but she ignored him until he shrugged and walked away.

She gathered up the few things she needed, already forgetting the broccoli, then grabbed a tiny orange to eat on the way home, so she wouldn’t get scurvy.

Scurvy? she thought. All the shit you’re swimming in and you’re worried about scurvy?

It was not warm enough that evening to go in the pool, but Magpie went to the backyard anyway and tended to it, skimming drowned and bloated bugs off the surface and sprinkling more chemicals in to shock all the winter germs away. She dumped the contents of the filter into the grass and dragged the dead swan to the trash cans around the side of the house.

She gave the garden shed a wide berth. It was filled with things that belonged to her father, the things he hadn’t had time to pack: lawn mower and camping equipment and ski poles, all linked together by an elaborate network of spiderwebs.

She did the dishes while her macaroni cooked. Her mother was semilucid and had even gone to work. She kissed Magpie vaguely on the cheek and asked her about school.

“School is great,” Magpie said.

“How is Allison?”

“Allison is great.”

“She hasn’t been around in a while.”

“She was here the other day; you were out.”

The delicate ecosystem of the house was maintained only if Magpie carefully avoided certain truths: She had not spoken to Allison for six months; her mother was an alcoholic; her father had slept with her aunt.

This was easy to manage because her mother generally lost interest in talking to Magpie after a few minutes.

“I think I’ll order pizza,” Ann Marie said. “Would you eat some pizza pie, little Magpie?”

“Yeah, Mom, that sounds great,” Magpie said, knowing that her mom would not order the pizza, knowing that her mom would pass out soon, knowing that if she actually did want pizza she would have to order it herself.

Magpie tended to her macaroni and cheese; it was marginally better this evening because of the milk and butter. She ate standing over the sink, looking out the little window at the backyard, the pool, the pizza float she’d pulled onto the pool’s platform so it wouldn’t get too soaked in chemicals, the little shed just beyond the pool that contained all her father’s things.

Maybe one of these days she would burn it down.

On Tuesday morning Mr. James arrived fifteen minutes before class instead of his usual five, and he sat down at the desk next to Magpie’s and asked her if she’d read the story yet.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“Forget I’m sorry,” he said. “I need a little more than that from you, Margaret. Do you realize you’re looking at repeating sophomore year? I’m trying to help you out here, but I’m getting the distinct impression you don’t want to be helped.”


  • Praise for You Must Not Miss:
    A 2020 CCBC Choice

    * "Leno (Summer of Salt, 2018, etc.), channeling early Stephen King at his best, offers no neat conclusions, and her frank examination of depression, grief, alcoholism, and the ruinous aftermath of sexual assault, is grim yet effective. Readers will ponder this exceedingly creepy gut punch of a tale long after turning the last page."

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
  • * "Compelling and harrowing.... Leno doesn't shy away from challenging themes... and she brings lyrically haunting language to a story filled with inherent darkness."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • * "Leno (Summer of Salt, 2018) takes a concept...and executes it with beautiful, brutal precision. Between the lines of spare and dreamlike prose lurks a girl who, though quiet at first, demands to be seen, and readers will not soon forget her."—Booklist (starred review)

  • "This unusual blend of realistic fiction, fantasy, and mayhem begs debate wherever it is read! Stock more than one copy."—VOYA

  • "A little bit Coraline, a little bit Stephen King.... A frank, unflinching look at grief, rage, depression, and how pain manifests as cruelty. You must not miss You Must Not Miss."—Mackenzie Vanengelenhoven, King's English Bookshop (Salt Lake City, UT)

  • "A mind-bender of a book."—Rosie Lee, Readers Books (Sonoma, CA)

On Sale
Apr 23, 2019
Page Count
304 pages

Katrina Leno

About the Author

Katrina Leno was born on the East Coast and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is the author of seven critically acclaimed novels, including You Must Not Miss, Horrid, and Sometime in Summer. The Umbrella Maker’s Son is her middle grade debut. She has always loved the rain.

Learn more about this author