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Ever since her aunt died four months ago, seventeen-year-old Vivian (Viv) Spry is aching to figure out where she belongs. Her father has become emotionally distant and even her best friend has found a new sense of identity in her theater group. Unfortunately, nobody in her rural West Virginia town has time for an assertive, angry girl, especially a girl dubbed “Ice Queen” for refusing to sleep with her popular boyfriend. On top of everything, she discovers a strange ability to sense energy that really freaks her out. The only place Viv feels like it’s safe to be her true self is the tree stand where her aunt taught her to hunt. It's the one place she still feels connected to the person who knew her best. So when fracking destroys the stand and almost kills her, Viv vows to find a way to take the gas company down.
When Dex Mathews comes to town—a new kid whose mom lands a job laying pipeline—his and Viv's worlds collide and a friendship (and maybe more?) slowly blossoms. But Viv’s plan to sabotage the pipeline company could result in Dex’s mom losing her job, putting them on the streets. Now Viv and Dex have to decide what’s worth fighting for—their families, their principles, or each other.
VIV DIDN’T NOTICE ANYTHING UNUSUAL ABOUT THE TREE stand. Not at first.
The wind blew an early November chill through her body, and she wished for a moment she’d brought a jacket. She hadn’t planned on staying up in the stand so long.
Sighing, she pushed herself up from the knotted pine floorboards and rubbed the goosebumps beneath the sleeves of her Twisted Pines High School sweatshirt. The chill was nothing, really. All those motionless hours spent here with Aunt Elle every winter had lessened her skin’s sensitivity to anything but the roughest cold. Still, this was the first icy wind of the season, and the first one, as Elle had always reminded her, bit the deepest.
Viv’s eyes flicked to the bench on the left side of the stand, half expecting to find Elle in her usual spot, but there was only a leaf. The wind swelled, and the leaf skidded across the empty bench before sliding back down to the browning earth.
“Enough,” Viv told herself. For the first time since arriving some hours before, she grabbed her compound bow from where it leaned in the corner and nocked an arrow. Although deer season was in full swing and she supplied several families’ venison stores, she hadn’t come to the forest to hunt. Today, as she’d done so often for the past several months, she’d come only for Elle. Even so, she should at least practice.
Viv pulled an arrow back, letting the tip of her nose brush the bowstring as she sighted.
Let your body steady.
Slowly, she moved her index finger to the trigger, eyes locked on the poplar tree thirty yards away.
She heard the words so plainly in her mind—it was almost like Elle was there beside her again.
Viv pulled the trigger. There was a soft whoosh, and then the arrow was buried in the target, probably four inches deep in the center. Viv smiled.
She hadn’t thought it would feel this way, that first time she had visited the stand after the funeral three months ago. She’d thought the space would seem vacant. And it did, in the obvious way, but it also felt the opposite. Elle’s steadiness lingered, her energy as tangible in the stand as the boards and nails.
It had shocked Viv at first—the energy—because she thought she’d rid herself of that ability long ago. But somehow Elle had disarmed her, and since it was Elle, Viv didn’t mind as much.
Once Viv discovered Elle’s energy, the realness of it and the comforting way it wrapped around her shoulders like a hug, she’d started visiting the stand regularly. Not to hunt—the season hadn’t started when she’d first come back here. She went solely to feel better. To feel that she was okay, just as she was. She nocked a second arrow. These days, she needed that feeling more than she cared to admit.
A familiar bark came from below. Viv lowered her bow and peered over the side of the stand. “Hey, Snick.”
The small terrier mutt didn’t wag his tail in his usual, playful greeting. Instead, he yapped again. A sharp, insistent sound.
Viv frowned. “A few more minutes, okay? Then we’ll go. Promise.”
The dog growled. Viv had never seen him act this way, and if she’d had hackles, they’d have raised as high as Snick’s.
Later, Viv would wonder how her body had known, because instinct was the only thing that explained her next split-second moves: tossing her cherished $600 bow to the ground and diving for the wooden rungs hammered into the trunk just as a series of small pops punctured the air. At the sounds, Viv didn’t even think; she leapt the remaining eight feet to the muddy ground. Something groaned, then cracked, like ice breaking, and it took Viv a second to understand that the sounds came from the tree. Snick stood several yards away, barking furiously.
Viv only made it a few steps before the air split with a THWACK. She looked back to see the massive tree dip sideways, groaning hideously. The ground shifted and opened, swallowing a good three feet of the trunk and surrounding earth like something out of a horror movie.
The stand’s planks arched and shattered. Shards of wood snapped and crashed against the earth.
“No.” The sound barely escaped her lips before she sensed it, the hollowness echoing inside her bones: Elle’s energy was gone.
DEX HELD OPEN THE FLIMSY SCREEN DOOR WITH HIS Converse knockoffs, balancing the two cardboard boxes he carried against his chest.
“Believe that’s it,” his mom said, passing through the doorway with the final load from the Chevy.
Dex set the boxes onto the dusty futon and tried not to focus on the fact that all their belongings fit into six cardboard boxes and an egg crate. It was better that way, Mom assured him. Moves were easy when everything fit into your vehicle. At least they had a vehicle.
“Well,” Mom said, glancing around the place. “It’s not the Ritz, is it?”
Dex put on his best smile. “It’s great.”
And it was, despite not being exactly what he’d call a “hunting cabin.” As far as Dex could tell, the house was little more than a trailer with a porch and a small addition in the back surrounded by dense forest. Still, he hadn’t seen a single cockroach, so it was already a huge step up from the crumbling Pittsburgh apartments he’d lived in for most of his life. The place didn’t even smell like mildew.
“Can you believe we get Wi-Fi out here in the boonies?” Mom said. “Owner said it’s a little slow, but it works.”
Her normal expression of fierceness softened as she winked. It was weird to think she intimidated most everyone she met. Okay, maybe not so weird given that her shoulders were almost twice as thick as Dex’s, even if he was taller—finally—than she was. He frowned, remembering what a former classmate had called her: the butch battleship. Then he remembered what happened when he’d tried to fight that same classmate.
“You okay?” Mom asked.
Dex coughed, annoyed he’d let his emotions play out on his face. “Yeah, I’m good. Awesome about the Wi-Fi.”
“The first time we can actually afford it too,” Mom said.
Dex rubbed his arms, more from habit than anything, although there was a definite bite in the air.
“Space heater’s in the corner,” Mom said, pointing to a small black box. “Go on and plug it in.” Dex wasn’t actually that cold; they’d had to pull a few non-heat nights to save on the energy bill back in Pittsburgh. But he was glad to have something to do.
“The owner said we could make a few updates,” Mom said as he turned on the heat, “long as we check in with him first.” She patted the wood siding that covered the walls floor to ceiling. “You know I love a good fixer-upper.”
Dex was all too familiar with her love of fixing. Mom’s two deployments in Afghanistan had made her quite adept at turning any resource she had available into whatever she needed to get by. Unfortunately, her penchant for fixing didn’t stop at inanimate objects. Her wholehearted belief that she could make something better by sheer force of will was the only explanation Dex could think of as to why she’d ever taken an interest in his father.
“This thing might be on its last legs,” he said. He’d cranked the space heater to the highest level, but the air that shot out was pitiful.
“I was thinking,” Mom said as if she hadn’t heard him, “maybe after my first couple paychecks, we could get you a real desk.”
Dex stood. “I have a desk.”
“Not that makeshift one. A real one, from a store. With drawers and maybe even a couple built-in shelves. You’re college-bound, after all.”
She sounded so hopeful that Dex couldn’t help but hug her. He knew seventeen-year-old boys didn’t often hug their moms voluntarily, at least none of the kids he’d ever known. But, as his father had loved to point out, Dex wasn’t much like other boys his age. Normal boys.
He pulled back. “I’ve been thinking,” he blurted, before he lost his nerve, “about how to pay for everything. There was a recruiter at school a few weeks ago, for the Army—”
“Mom, they pay for everything.”
“We’ve been over this.” She turned away, her head shaking in tight, tiny movements. “I thought you understood.”
“We can’t take on any more debt,” he said quietly. “If I didn’t have to pay—”
“Oh, you’d pay.” She whirled around. “I know they make it sound all glamorous and honorable, and it is honorable.” She took a breath, steadying herself. “But you’d pay for school with at least four years of your life, maybe more, and the world is unstable, and they will ask you to do things, they will require you to do things…” Her voice trailed away and she blinked, rubbing her forehead.
“Dex.” Her eyes softened. “You are not a fighter.”
Shame burned through him, mostly because he knew she was right. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t become one. That he didn’t want to become one.
She stepped closer. “I took that path,” she said. “And it is a fine path for some, but you must trust me. It is not the path for you.”
Somehow, even looking down at her, he felt like the smaller one.
“I have a good job now,” Mom said. “Finally. And there are loans. Scholarships. We’ll make it work somehow. I am the parent here. I take care of you, not the other way around.” She rubbed his cheek.
Dex moved away. She had the best intentions. She really believed they could make it work. But Dex loved numbers, and he’d played with them a lot. He’d taken Econ last semester and listened to enough economics podcasts that he understood the vicious cycle forced onto the poor and lower middle classes. His mom’s new pipeline income, bolstered by his dad’s occasional child support, put them just above the line below which he could get substantial financial aid. He needed to help Mom pay off her debt before he took on any more.
Dex stared at the ’70s-era wood-paneled wall, empty except for a framed, glued-together jigsaw puzzle of a buck with massive antlers. God, he hated living like this, paycheck to paycheck. Just a few more years, he told himself. Nowadays, his old Econ teacher had said, it was a big deal to class jump. But Dex would do it, and he’d pull his mom with him if it was the last thing he did.
Mom stepped close again. “I know we haven’t had the best luck. But this job is gonna change things, okay? This year will be different.”
For that one moment, Dex let himself believe it might be true.
VIV SAT CROSS-LEGGED ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF, HUGGING Snick’s warm body against her chest as he licked her cheek. She hadn’t been able to go home, not with her hands still shaking and her mind surging as it was, constantly failing to make sense of what had happened in the hollow. Instead, she’d hiked to the highest point on their property, letting endorphins burn away her terror and slowly bring her back to herself. At least, that was what she hoped would happen.
“It’s okay, Snick,” she told the dog, though he seemed to be handling things much better than she was. “It’s gonna be okay.” Even as she said the words, she felt it again, the tug in her gut as the tree collapsed, and then the deep, horrible lack of what had been.
Snick nuzzled her reassuringly, but Viv’s breathing remained thin and uneven. Maybe she was losing it. Maybe she’d never sensed Elle at all, and she’d imagined everything because she’d needed to, and—
“No,” she said aloud, unable to make herself believe the lie. Not about this.
Viv wasn’t sure when she’d started noticing things that other people couldn’t feel. Surges of heat and pressure alerting her to subtle shifts in mood had always been part of how she experienced the world, as much a part of her as breathing. It wasn’t until sixth grade—when she casually commented to her best friend Maeve about the intense pressure coming from a classmate right before said classmate burst into tears—that Viv realized something was off.
“What are you talking about?” Maeve had said, scrunching her face so much that the freckles dotting her brown cheeks rose to just under her eyes. “What pressure?”
“You know,” Viv had said, “all that heat she was giving off. The pressure.” She made a gesture like something was blowing into her face.
Maeve said, “You’re freaking me out.”
Maeve’s anxiety was tangible, blooming around them. A gentle pulse of fear thudded beneath it.
“Kidding,” Viv had said. “I just meant her face was all mushed up, so I could tell she was gonna cry. That’s all.”
Maeve relaxed then, and Viv vowed not to feel anything like that ever again, because there was clearly something wrong with her, something to be feared. Slowly, she taught herself how to turn down the sensations until one day, finally, she stopped feeling anything at all.
Viv didn’t speak of it again until four years later, when Elle found her crying in the tree stand and started wafting air toward her.
“What are you doing?” Viv had asked, wiping her snotty nose on her sleeve.
Elle scooped her into a hug. “Your energy was scattered everywhere,” she said. “I was giving it back to you.”
Viv had stopped crying then. “What?”
“Never mind.” Elle kissed Viv’s head. “Your dad doesn’t want me talking to you about stuff like that.”
“I want to know,” Viv pressed.
Elle nodded a conspiratorial grin. “And I’ll tell you one day. But not now, not when you’re scattered and sad.” She squeezed Viv’s hand. “What’s happened?”
Viv had told her about the rumors at school. About what the boys were saying. And it had taken over, pushing Elle’s comment to the very back of her mind. Not long after that day, the heart disease had taken Elle, sudden and unexpected, and everything else… everything else just fell away.
Viv hugged Snick closer. She should have demanded that Elle explain what she meant right then. But Viv had been selfish, wrapped up in her own stupid drama.
Viv’s phone buzzed on the rock beside her. Service was sketchy up here, so she hadn’t been sure her texts had gone through, but Maeve answered.
M: VIV OMMMGGGGGG!!! Are you okay? I’m so sorry I just got this. Was in rehearsal. The tree SUNK??? What the actual??? Should I come out there?
Viv’s breathing slowed as she read the words. Maeve could worry enough for both of them.
V: You don’t need to come. I’m OK.
On the mountain now.
I don’t understand what happened?
And it was only that one spot.
Viv almost hit send, then added one more sentence.
How am I gonna tell Dad?
Viv stared into the forested valley. It was a barren sight this time of year, a monotone of empty brown branches and mud, save for the few evergreens that provided pops of green. If you didn’t know better, it would be difficult to tell there were worlds of life down there, surviving and thriving beneath the apparent desolation.
M: It wasn’t your fault! he’ll be glad you’re ok.
Even this high, the scent of the pines wrapped around Viv. She breathed it in like a balm.
M: Call me when you’re home?
Viv scooched Snick from her lap and stood. Despite the cold, she felt far more at home on this mountain than inside the walls of her house. But she could hardly say that, even to Maeve. Instead, she sent a thumbs-up emoji, took a last glimpse over the cliff face, and headed back down the mountain.
DEX JAMMED IN HIS EARBUDS AS SOON AS MOM DROPPED him off at the high school parking lot. Seven months, he reminded himself. Seven months until graduation and college and the start of a way out for him and his mom. Never mind that he still had no clue how to afford any of it. He would find a way.
The walk to the front door was a tangle of students dressed in outfits varying from overalls and paint-stained plaid to pricey-looking tunics and knee-high boots. People were staring—Twisted Pines mustn’t get many transfers. He didn’t make eye contact with a single person.
The inside of the school was as dated as the outside. He found the front office and waited patiently as the secretary printed out his schedule, the man chattering at him the whole time.
“We have excellent sports teams,” the secretary said. “Despite only having about eighty students per grade, we usually compete for at least one or two state titles each year. You look like you might be a soccer player?”
“Basketball, then? What are you, six one? Or perhaps track? You do have a runner’s look about you.”
Dex wasn’t even sure what that meant. “I don’t do sports.”
The secretary blinked like he hadn’t considered this possibility. “Oh. Well, we have a lot of other extracurriculars. There’s Debate and Drama, and we’ve got a top-notch agricultural program too.”
In the corner, the printer finally came to life. “Here you are, then,” said the secretary, grabbing the schedule and handing it across the desk. “Welcome to Twisted Pines.”
“Wait.” Dex’s eyes locked on his first class. “There’s a mistake. I’m a senior. It says my first class is sophomore PE.”
Frowning, the man clicked through a series of screens on his computer. “No mistake,” he said. “Your transcripts show you’ve had two health units and one unit of physical education. Graduation requires two PE units.”
Dex’s face tightened, his heart slamming against his chest. “My old school only required one semester.”
The secretary spread his hands. “But you transferred here, and we require two.” He smiled. “It’s not like it’s AP Calculus.”
Dex would have rather taken three AP Calc classes than subject himself to one more minute of PE. He struggled to keep his voice panic-free. “There’s gotta be another option? Another elective I could substitute? Or maybe my old school could send a letter explaining we didn’t need two semesters?”
“I’m sorry, no.”
“Look, do you want to graduate or not? Now, to get to the gym—”
“Buenos días, Mr. Stone.” The office door opened, and a boy just a smidge shorter than Dex strode in.
“Oscar!” the secretary said. “Perfect timing. This is Dex Mathews, a transfer. Would you please escort him to the gym for class? It’ll be easier than me trying to explain the way.”
“No prob.” Oscar gave a chin lift to Dex before returning to the secretary. “Ms. Garcia said you have some mail for her?”
“Ah, yes.” Mr. Stone swiveled in his chair and pulled an envelope from one of the boxes that lined the wall behind him. “Here you are.”
“Cool.” Oscar’s bicep flexed beneath his tight T-shirt as he reached for the envelope. He was obviously popular, confidence radiating off him in a way Dex couldn’t fathom.
“Ready, man?” Oscar asked, golden-boy charm dripping even from his voice. Still, the smile he gave Dex seemed warm and genuine, so Dex returned it. Oscar led him out of the office and down an offshoot of the main corridor. “Gym class, huh?” he asked. “So you’re a sophomore?”
“I’m a senior,” Dex mumbled. “Apparently my old school didn’t provide me with enough PE credits to graduate.”
“That suuuucks,” Oscar drew out the word in commiseration. “Hoss is cool, though. He’s the wrestling coach.”
Dex’s body went cold. “He’s not…” He cleared his throat. “He’s not going to have us wrestling?”
“Well, there’ll be other stuff too, but he always spends the most time on wrestling.” Oscar laughed at Dex’s horrified expression. “It’s fun.”
Dex forced himself to breathe, trying not to remember the wrench of his arms pinned behind him, his head cracking against asphalt so hard his vision went black.
“This is it.” Oscar stopped in front of wooden double doors. A rectangular plaque on the wall read Gymnasium. “Good luck, bro.”
MS. GIANG PACED FROM HER DESK TO THE WINDOW, HER hand absently rubbing her jawline. “And the tree was just… sucked under? Out of the blue?”
Viv nodded. “Here.” She held out her smartphone. “I went back and took some pictures.”
“You need to stay away from there,” Ms. Giang said as she squinted at the screen. “Would you mind emailing those to me? I want to see them larger.”
Viv sent the photos, relieved to be doing something
- "I read Fault Lines in one sitting; it’s just that good. Riveting and real, including the magic. I only wish I’d written it myself."—Han Nolan, National Book Award winning author of Dancing on the Edge
- "A powerful and timely story that deftly navigates the complex interplay between poverty and environmentalism. I fell in love with the land as much as I did the characters."—Abigail Hing Wen, New York Times bestselling author of the Loveboat, Taipei series
- “A love letter to the natural world, this story shows how dismantling beliefs calls for fight and fury, but also empathy and heart. Tough yet intuitive Viv shines as a complicated protagonist, and her connection with earnest Dex brims with hope—until they discover the devastating ways they are at odds. Honest in its exploration of the deep-rooted challenges of one rural community, Fault Lines is a masterpiece as breathtaking as our West Virginian forests. Empowering and sublime.”—Anuradha D. Rajurkar, author of American Betiya, a 2022 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selection
"Fault Lines is a lyrically rendered and stirring story of coming of age with the natural world and falling in love. Carpenter writes the people and region of Appalachia with unfailing grace and dignity. Her love for both makes every sentence gleam."—Jeff Zentner, award-winning author of IN THE WILD LIGHT and THE SERPENT KING
- "Nora Shalaway Carpenter writes about Appalachia with clear eyes and a compassionate heart. . . . This timely story is certain to grab readers who will–like me–eagerly flip the pages to learn how these engaging and determined characters will bridge the metaphorical sinkhole that divides them."—Laura Sibson, author of EDDIE IN BETWEEN and THE ART OF BREAKING THINGS
- "With an authentic lens and compelling prose, Fault Lines takes readers deep into rural America, where Carpenter navigates divisive topics with grace. Readers will appreciate the precise pacing, relatable characters, and abundance of empathy that Fault Lines has to offer. I absolutely loved this heartfelt novel."—Kyrie McCauley, award-winning author of If These Wings Could Fly and We Can Be Heroes
- “Viv's moral compass cracks her heart wide open. This immersive story of love, land, and identity will shake the ground and make you experience the world in a whole new way. In a time of social and political polarity, Fault Lines urges us to look deeply at what we're willing to put on the line for one another. Absolutely riveting. A social- and environmentally minded book for our present and future.”—Gloria Muñoz, award-winning author of Danzirly
- "With clean prose and clear purpose, Fault Lines explores the interlocking economic, social, and environmental issues confronting, not just teens, but all of us trying to navigate the modern world. Carpenter respects both the issues and her readers too much to offer pat answers. Instead, through the compelling match up of Viv and Dex we’re drawn into a complexity that can only be resolved with deep empathy and the magic of discovering the threads that bind us to both the Earth and to each other. Bold, brave, and surprisingly emotional, you’ll root for not only Viv and Dex, but for the trees and the forest itself."—Maia Toll, bestselling author of the Wild Wisdom series
- "Confronting head-on the environmental ravages of fracking with a love story takes hutzpah of a kind I can only admire. I also believe it’s a story can make a difference to the complex issue of environment versus jobs to which this novel gives such nuanced attention. Make no mistake this is no ordinary love story but one told with rare and remarkable restraint and subtlety. I was happily reminded throughout of the masterful storytelling found in an earlier generation of Appalachian authors like George Ella Lyon and Cynthia Rylant. Add that the story is a page-turner with carefully drawn, compellingly believable characters makes me more than eager to see what this gifted young novelist will bring us next. Highly recommended."—Marc Harshman, Poet Laureate of West Virginia
- "An engaging novel that will keep readers thinking."—Kirkus Reviews
- “Drawing from personal experience living in West Virginia, Carpenter cleverly braids the emotional, intellectual, and practical issues around pipelines and fracking… At the same time, the novel traces Dex and Viv’s tender romance as the pair find comfort in each other despite their very different personalities and circumstances. Hand to fans of activism fiction."—Booklist
- "Some stories are like foxfire—unexpected magic, rooted in place, that lights the way. Fault Lines is one of those stories."—Cinda Williams Chima, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of the Heir Chronicles
- On Sale
- Sep 12, 2023
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Running Press Kids