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The Edge of Anything
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One of A Mighty Girl's Best Books of the Year
A Bank Street Best Books 2021
Finalist for the Cybils Awards
Len is a loner teen photographer haunted by a past that's stagnated her work and left her terrified she's losing her mind. Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Both girls need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two develop an unlikely friendship that enables them to begin facing their inner demons.
But both Len and Sage are keeping secrets that, left hidden, could cost them everything, maybe even their lives.
Set in the North Carolina mountains, this dynamic #ownvoices novel explores grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.
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THE FIRST THING LEN NOTICED WAS THE FLOOR. THAT WAS always the first thing these days, her eyes constantly scanning the places her boots had to touch. Unless she jumped about four feet, there wasn’t a single clean tile to step on.
She didn’t remember noticing them last year—all the streaks and brown bits littering the hallway—but that seemed impossible. Had she simply not cared?
“Move it, loser,” someone muttered behind her. She didn’t recognize the voice, but it didn’t matter. Len was used to the insults. She didn’t take her eyes off the floor.
“Weirdo,” the kid said. “Seriously, hurry up. Varsity’s already started.”
Len’s chest cramped as she tried to decide where to step.
“Come on!” someone else groaned, and Len forced herself to move up in line, one foot, then two. The sole of her boot tracked through a dark brown streak, and she told herself it wasn’t dog shit. Someone else would have noticed if it was dog shit, right? And why didn’t anyone else seem to care?
The slick squeaks of shoe soles on hardwood echoed from the gym. It’s just mud, Len thought again, repeating the word like a mantra. Mud, mud, mud.
“Three dollars, please. Four if you want the raffle.”
Len blinked at the librarian. When had he started taking ticket money? And what was Len even doing here? She didn’t like volleyball, not really.
The librarian held out his hand. “You coming in, Len?”
“I—uh…” Heat speckled her face and neck. Had she always had such trouble making decisions? She turned to leave when the memory of why she’d come to the game jolted her. The phone, ringing, ringing. Seven p.m. on the dot. Fauna.
Len couldn’t go back home. Not yet.
“Jesus, Lemon,” said the first voice. “You in or out?”
Len shoved her cash onto the table and pushed her way into the gym.
Sage started forward, even though there was no way the ball would reach her. Probably wouldn’t even make it over the net. That hollow thud meant a too-slack hand, a poor serve. Still, she crouched low, weight on the balls of her fire-orange Asics, in case she needed to sprawl.
The ball kissed the net, rolled a few feet sideways along the top, then dropped back on the opponent’s side, sending Sage’s bench into near-hysterics. Sage’s Southview Rams hadn’t defeated their hometown rival Asheville High in three seasons, and that missed serve kept her team alive.
Go time. Sage walked back to the server’s box as the scoreboard ticked 13–14. Varsity matches went best of five, and this one had gone to the last game. Match point for Asheville. Again.
Kayla Davis ran up to her. “You got this, Sage,” she said. “You got it.”
Sage nodded. The line judge tossed her the ball.
Coach Craig held up four fingers beneath his clipboard, but Sage didn’t need the signal. She knew Asheville’s weak-side hitter was just that—weak. Even if she hadn’t studied the game tape for the past three nights, a few plays into the match revealed who was most likely to shank her serve.
From the bench, her teammates shouted themselves hoarse.
“Pound it, Sage!”
“They can’t touch you!”
“Come on, baby!”
Sage twirled the volleyball in her hands, then bounced it once—her ritual. She heard the cheers, but also didn’t, like she knew she was breathing without thinking about it. She extended the ball onto her left palm.
If she mis-served, her rivals won.
The referee whistled, signaling her.
Sage stared down the opposing setter, making her think she was the target. Then she tossed the ball and hammered a topspin directly at position four. The girl barely had time to protect her face before the ball hit her elbow and ricocheted out of bounds.
The Rams’ bench almost lost its mind. On the court, Sage performed the celebratory Ace ritual with her teammates—two stomps and a clap—but her face stayed stone flat. The ref tossed her the ball. Coach Craig held up another four.
This time Sage backed against the wall. She tossed the ball high, then leapt to meet it in a jump serve—more intimidating than her topspin, but not as fast. Asheville’s receiver got a better handle on it, but the ball shot into the net and dropped to the ground before her setter could even touch it.
15–14, Rams advantage. Unlike the first four games that went to twenty-five points, the fifth game of a match only went to fifteen. But you had to win by two. This was it, then. Or could be. Sage walked back to the service line.
“Timeout!” Asheville’s coach called. Kayla slung her arm around Sage as they joined Southview’s huddle. “You got this,” her best friend said, squeezing her shoulders. “I know you got it.” Sage allowed a tight nod.
“One point and they’re back in it!” Coach quieted the bench with a look. He pointed at Sage. “They’re trying to ice you,” he said, like she didn’t know. “Hit six this time.”
Sage made a face. “Four’s shanked it twice. I’m in her head.”
“She knows you’re coming for her. She’ll be ready.”
“Doesn’t matter,” said Sage. “She can’t hit it.”
Coach raised his eyebrows, daring her to continue arguing. Last year Sage had ignored a call, and Coach had benched her, star player or no. It probably cost the team the game. “Six,” he repeated. The whistle blew.
Sage held his gaze to let him know she disagreed, then cracked her neck and walked back to the server’s box.
“Just one more, Sagey.” Ella Cruz smacked her hip as she trotted past.
Only Ella could get away with calling her Sagey. But, then, nobody fed her sets like Ella.
Sage picked up the ball, the team’s energy thrumming though her. Most of her teammates, good as they were, wouldn’t trade positions with her for the world. She sensed this instinctively, the same way she intuited when a player was going to tip almost before the player did. With the game in the balance, her teammates didn’t want the serve. Didn’t want the risk of failure. That was the difference between Sage Zendasky and the rest: these were the moments she felt most alive.
Sage slapped the ball with her palm, her mouth twitching a faint smile just to mess with Asheville’s players. This was why she showed up early to their three-hour practices and why she often stayed late. Why she played in an off-season travel league. Why she spent practically all of her free time with a volleyball in her hands.
The whistle shrilled. Sage tossed the ball…
and crushed it.
Asheville’s back middle—position six—dug the serve perfectly. Sage had a heartbeat of indignation—told you, Craig—while she raced to position in the back row. She sunk down as Asheville’s hitter connected with the ball.
“Me, ME!” Lyz Greer called, causing Sage and Nina Marto to scissor away from her.
“THREE!” Ella shouted, flipping a short set to the middle. Kayla drilled it, but position six made another perfect dig. Five times the ball exchanged sides, Asheville’s hitters clearly avoiding Sage.
Come on, thought Sage. One time.
“Short!” screamed Ella as Asheville’s middle flicked the ball over the blockers. Hannah Wainwright dove backward, managing to punch it up with her fist, but the ball rocketed toward the back wall.
Asheville’s bench erupted as Sage took off. The ball was nearly a body length in front of her, but high, and she just might…
She sprawled instinctually, hurling her fist upward. It connected, sending the ball sailing back to the court.
“MEEEE!” called Nina.
Sage heard Nina the moment before her momentum took her into the wall. Concrete met her cheek as her ankle turned awkwardly. She cursed, but pushed herself back to position in time to see Nina’s free ball cross the net.
Asheville was disorganized, clearly thinking they’d won the point when Hannah shanked. They managed to get the ball back in three, but with an easy free pass right to Sage. Ella’s eyes lit as she set Sage’s perfect pass to Kayla.
Asheville formed a double block, but Sage saw the hole behind it.
“Q!” She shouted the code letter. “Kayla, Q!”
Kayla attacked the net like she hadn’t heard, but at the last second pulled back her swing and tipped the ball into the gap behind the blockers.
The ball floated—movie-style-slow—and dropped to the floor.
“AHHHHHHHHH!” Sage screamed so her heart wouldn’t burst. Her teammates echoed her, high-fiving and jumping on one another. Kayla thrust her chest out, nodding like a pro footballer while Ella punched the air.
“You!” Sage said, rushing Kayla. “That was perfect!”
“YOU!” Kayla said, shaking her. “I thought we were dead. Did you hit the wall?”
“Yeah, she did,” said Ella, slapping her back. “She be crazy.”
Sage smiled, light-headed from the high of victory. Hannah raced toward her, and forgetting her ankle, Sage leapt to meet her in a shoulder bump. As she peaked, she registered it all simultaneously: Kayla’s whoops; her teammates’ converging; Coach’s wide and seldom-shown grin.
The thrill of it twitched her heart as she reconnected with the ground…
“GIVE HER SOME ROOM!”
Sage blinked as blurred faces sharpened into focus above her. She tried to push herself up.
“No.” A woman pressed her hand firmly against Sage’s shoulder. “Don’t move.”
“Why?” Sage shielded her eyes. The lights seemed brighter from down here.
“You passed out for a few seconds,” Kayla said. Sage found her face, upside down, in the mix. “You’re okay,” she added, and even though Sage knew she only said that to make her feel better, it worked.
“I’m going to elevate your feet,” said the woman kneeling beside her. She was in her late forties maybe, with unruly red hair that had seen too much dye. Coach Craig appeared on her other side.
“What’s your name?” the woman asked.
“Sage Zendasky.” She turned, trying to avoid the glare of lights directly above her. “I’m fine, really.”
“Excuse me!” a familiar voice called, then another.
“That’s our kid!” Her parents’ faces appeared above her, crinkled in worry.
“I’m okay,” Sage said as Mom knelt beside her.
“Honey,” Mom said, “what happened?”
Sage wished she knew. This was all so unnecessary. She hoped most of the crowd had left.
The red-haired woman cleared her throat. “What day is it, Sage?”
“Uh… Wednesday.” She squinted at the woman. “Who are you?” If she’d really passed out, why wasn’t the school’s athletic trainer examining her?
“I’m an EMT,” the woman said, “a mom from the Asheville team.”
Sage reached behind her long dark ponytail. No bump. No pain. “Did I hit my head?”
The EMT exchanged a look with her parents. “You passed out when you jumped up with your friend,” she said. “She caught you, but… you dove into the wall during the game.”
Dad’s thick eyebrows squished. “Don’t you remember?”
“My head didn’t hit the wall,” Sage said. “It was more of my cheek area.” She touched the spot. “And not that hard.”
The EMT let out a sharp breath through her nose. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“How many now?”
Mom squeezed her hand. “I told you you should have eaten more.”
“Oh.” The EMT sat back on her heels, the relief in her voice palpable. “You didn’t eat?”
“I ate,” said Sage.
Mom shook her head, flashing her a told-you-so look. “Cereal’s hardly a meal.”
“That explains it, then,” said Coach Craig. “Doesn’t it?”
The EMT checked Sage’s pulse, and then finally allowed her to sit up. “Do you feel light-headed at all?” she asked. “Nauseated?”
Sage shook her head.
“Doesn’t she need a test or something?” Dad asked. “She could have a concussion.”
Enough was enough. Sage pushed herself past the EMT’s grip. “I can’t have a concussion. My head didn’t actually hit the wall.”
“Honey, lie back down,” Mom ordered.
“I don’t think she has a concussion,” the EMT said, as if Sage hadn’t spoken. “But if she gets a headache or starts feeling queasy, take her to the emergency room right away.”
Kayla put her arm on Sage’s shoulder, edging her away from the swarm of concerned adults. Their teammates clustered at the bench a few yards away. Some of them had already slipped sweatpants over their spandex shorts, but most of them simply stood, arms crossed, watching Sage and Kayla approach.
“Everything all right?” Hannah asked as they joined the rest of the team.
Sage gave a short jerk of her chin, her no-big-deal nod. “Apparently, I didn’t eat enough.”
Kayla smirked. “There’s a first time for everything.”
Laughter rippled through the team; everyone knew Sage loved to eat. Even in front of guys, she’d eat till she was full, because how stupid was it not to eat what you normally would just because there was a boy around? She couldn’t believe some girls actually did that.
Ella bumped her shoulder. “You can’t scare us that way, Cap’n. Not if you’re gonna lead us to states.”
Sage smiled and sat down to unlace her Asics. At the start of summer conditioning, Coach had made them each write a goal. A lot of girls wrote, “regional champs.” Some, like Ella, had dared to write, “going to states,” a feat Southview had never accomplished. Sage hadn’t told anyone yet, but her goal wasn’t just getting to the state tournament. It was winning it.
Coach clapped his hands. “Party’s over. And remember, practice starts at three tomorrow. None of this three-oh-two that’s been happening. Three p.m. Sharp.”
Sage turned to Kayla. “Did I really faint?”
“Your blood sugar must’ve dropped. It happens to my grandma sometimes.”
“Because that makes me feel better.”
“You know what I mean.” Kayla zipped her duffle. “And anyway, no one will remember tomorrow.”
The heat of her stiffening ankle kept Sage from responding. At least home was only ten minutes away, so she could avoid asking for ice. One hint of an injury and Dad would make her see every specialist in town. Worse—he might keep her from practice. She pulled on her sweats so no one would notice the swelling.
“Ready?” Mom appeared beside her. “Dad came straight from work, so we drove separately.”
Sage nodded, eyeing her father. Why was he still talking to the EMT?
“You need a ride, Kayla?” Mom asked.
“Thanks, Mrs. Z, but I’m good.” She nodded at an older woman on a cell phone. “Lyz’s grandma’s gonna drop me off.”
Sage bumped the pinky side of Kayla’s outstretched fist with her own, the goodbye action automatic for both of them, then followed Mom to the parking lot. Their silver Civic sat wedged between a Hummer and a minivan.
“I’m going to make you that chicken soup you love,” Mom said, starting the car. “I just need to swing by the store.”
Sage glanced at the dashboard. “It’s almost ten.”
“Honey, you fainted because you didn’t eat enough.” She inched the Civic backward. “God, why does anyone need a car the size of a boat?”
Sage’s head fell back against the seat. Now that they were talking about it, she was hungry. “Don’t you have a big meeting in the morning? I thought you wanted an early night?”
“What I want is to take care of my baby girl.”
“I know, I know. But I don’t care if you’re seventeen. I wouldn’t care if you were seventy-one.” The car finally freed itself from the space, barely missing the Hummer’s mirror.
“If I were seventy-one,” said Sage, “that would make you…” She tapped her chin.
“I’m kidding. My grammy lived to one hundred. You’ve got a long time to get tired of me.”
Sage shook her head. “You’re so weird.”
“Seriously,” Mom said, “do you want the soup or not?”
Sage rotated her ankle. She still could, which meant the swelling wasn’t terrible. “Honestly?” She grinned. “Do you even have to ask?”
* * *
Dad sat at the kitchen table, thumb-typing on his iPhone. Mom kissed his cheek, then started pulling ingredients from the fridge and pantry. “I take it the district attorney filed that brief?” She ran the Keurig, filling the kitchen with the sweet scent of her favorite decaf coffee.
Dad sighed. “I was hoping he’d get an extension so I’d have longer for the response, but no such luck.” He looked up as Sage tried to sneak by him to the freezer. “There she is,” he said. “Southview’s hero.”
Sage rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t hold back a grin. She filled a glass with ice, then found a ginger ale in the fridge. Once she got to her room she’d use the cold glass on her foot.
“Where’s Ian?” she asked just as her younger brother emerged from the living room.
“Heard you beat Asheville!” he said. “Dad said you were epic, as usual.” He took a bite of his sandwich—peanut butter and jelly from the stain on his white tee—and grinned. “Wish I coulda been there.”
Sage smiled, silently thanking him for not mentioning the passing out. Dad had surely told him. “It was a pretty good night,” she said. Well, minus the fainting.
“I hate Asheville High.” Ian took another huge mouthful. “Can’t wait to pummel them Friday.”
Dad typed something else into his phone, not looking up. “How long you gonna wait to ice that foot, Sage?”
Mom stopped chopping carrots. “You hurt your foot?”
“How—” Sage started.
“I could tell by how you took your shoe off.” Dad looked up, eyebrows raised. “It’s stupid to waste time. Could cost you minutes.”
Sage grabbed an ice pack from the freezer. That was better than ice cubes anyway. “It’s just a tweak.”
“Well, sit down!” Mom shooed her to the table. “How did it happen? And what kind of EMT doesn’t notice a sprained ankle? Does that woman even have her license?”
Sage started to say something about how if everyone hadn’t been so focused on her nonexistent head injury… but she thought better of it. Mom had veered off into what Sage and Ian called Grizzly Bear mode, which often happened when she was overly tired. They’d learned long ago that provoking the Grizzly was good for no one.
Sage slid onto the seat next to Dad, propping her iced ankle on the bench that sat beneath the oil painting Mom had recently purchased in the River Arts District. It was titled Flowers in the Gully, but Sage thought it looked more like a rainbow hurricane. For two grand, she thought the subject should be more apparent. But then, she didn’t really get art.
“Here.” Ian handed her a throw pillow from the sofa.
“Thanks.” She propped it under her ankle. “I think it’s feeling better already.”
Dad’s smartphone pinged. “Ah, good,” he said. “Nhu-Mai said to come by tomorrow at lunchtime. She’ll squeeze you in.”
Sage groaned. “You called her? That’s the whole reason I didn’t want you to know.”
“Technically,” Dad said, “I texted her. And what’s the point of having a doctor as your best friend if you can’t call in some favors?”
“She’ll just tell me to ice it.”
“Then that’s what she’ll say. Sectionals are only two weeks away. That means bigger scouts. You want to make sure you’re in prime shape.”
Sage looked at Ian, but he nodded agreement. She sighed.
Dad opened the stat book laying on the table. “You did great out there tonight, Sage. Ten for ten serves. That incredible save to win the game—”
“If we’re being technical,” Sage said, “it didn’t actually win the game.”
Dad waved her objection away. “It kept you guys alive. Speaking of which, I gotta get the game tape. That dive’s definitely making your recruitment profile. And that spike in the second game?” He smiled. “Your plyometrics are really working. We’ve got to measure your jump again.” He made a note in the stat book.
Sage flexed her fingers, as if the motion could keep her excitement in check.
“The offer from App State is good,” Dad said, “but you keep playing like this, you’ll have your pick of schools. Penn State, even.”
“Those girls are giants, Dad. Super talented giants.” It was Sage’s unspoken but well-known dream to go to Penn State, one of the best women’s volleyball programs in the country.
“You’ve got talent,” Dad said. “And five feet eleven is hardly little.”
Ian licked a glob of peanut butter from his thumb. “You still like UNC?”
Sage shrugged. UNC hadn’t officially offered yet, but they’d hinted they would soon. “They’ve got a solid program. Much better than the smaller schools who have offered, but it’s not like all the superstars are gonna go there. I want to play, you know? Not sit on the bench.”
Dad smiled. “How many MVP awards do you need to convince you?” he asked. “You are one of those superstars.”
Sage adjusted her ice pack, eye-rolling away the praise. She’d never admit it out loud, not ever, but she loved the way Dad gushed about her skills. He worked almost every weekend and ate most meals while answering e-mails, but Dad never missed one of Sage’s games. Sage tapped Ian’s leg with her good foot. “What about you?” she asked. “You guys ready for Friday?”
He pursed his lips, in that way he did when teetering between nervous and excited. “We’ll see, I guess.” Although six feet two inches, Ian was only a sophomore. And while he was too skinny for most football positions, he was what people called a natural athlete and had beaten out a kid in Sage’s class to earn the role of starting kicker.
“Coach pretty much tripled my drills this week,” he said.
“I’d hope so,” said Dad. “Asheville’s defense is probably the best in the state. You should have a lot of field goal attempts.”
Mom looked over from the stove. “Oh, that’s exciting for you,” she said.
“Not as good for the team, though.” Ian popped open the ginger ale Sage had left on the kitchen island. “Those assholes at the paper don’t think we have a chance.”
“Please, Ian,” Mom said. “Language.”
“Sorry. Ass hats.”
Sage snorted. Mom rolled her eyes.
“That new sports reporter doesn’t know a football from a pom-pom,” said Dad.
“It’s true they’re not a good match up for us.” Ian took a seat beside Sage’s propped foot. “But the game plan’s solid. I think it’ll be good.” He looked at Sage. “You’re gonna be there, right?”
She swiped a swig of ginger ale. “Wouldn’t miss it. Coach is even cutting practice short to give us time to eat first.”
“Speaking of eating,” said Mom, “who wants soup?”
LEN PULLED THE FRONT DOOR SHUT HARDER THAN SHE’D intended, rattling the loose pane in the side window.
“Lennon?” her mom called. “Is that you, hon?”
Len cringed. “Yeah.” She’d hoped to slip into her room unnoticed, but that door simply wouldn’t close without a jerk. Dad said it added to the old house’s character. Len thought it made them seem poor.
Her mom appeared around the corner, leaning next to the Abbey Road album poster thumbtacked into the beige wall. “Where’d you go?” she asked. “You missed Fauna’s call again.”
“Oh.” Len tried to look like she hadn’t planned to do precisely that. “She doing okay?”
Mom’s smile slipped. “The same. It’s just gonna take time, you know? For all of us.”
Len shrugged out of her sweatshirt. “What about Nonni? Did you visit today?”
“Also the same.” Mom wiped an eyelash from her cheek. “She recognized me for a few minutes, though, so that was nice.”
Len couldn’t imagine what it must feel like—your own mother not knowing who you were. It hurt Len that Nonni didn’t recognize her anymore, but it must be a thousand times worse for her mom.
“She asked for you,” Mom said.
Len’s eyes snapped up. “Nonni?”
Mom shook her head. “Fauna. She said you haven’t been emailing her like you used to.” Her eyes cut into Len, searching. “I think she really misses you.”
Len’s breath caught, the words digging like rusted scissors in her chest. She wondered if this was how Brutus felt, in that play they’d studied last year, when Caesar uttered those famous last words.
Mom reached for Len. “I know it’s been difficult.”
- "Equal parts humorous and heartwrenching. . . . A powerful, tender reminder of the importance of friendship in times of trauma."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
- "Carpenter's debut is written with a sure hand; her descriptions of anxiety and OCD are spot-on. Hand to fans of John Green immediately."—Booklist
- "This evenly paced book shines a light on the power of friendship and a true friend's ability to hear a cry for help no matter how quiet.... For readers who enjoy realistic, emotional journeys such as John Corey Whaley's books or Nina LaCour's We Are Okay."—School Library Journal
"A heartfelt, poignant, and candid story about the power-and danger-of magical thinking, and the grounding strength of good friends."
—Alan Gratz, New York Times bestselling author of Refugee
"The Edge of Anything is a gorgeously imagined, tender, irresistible examination of shame and the secrets we keep even from ourselves, but more than that, it is a reminder that vulnerability and truth telling are the best paths to healing and triumph. I can't wait for the world to meet Sage and Len!"
—Estelle Laure, author of This Raging
- "An unforgettable story about the power of friendship."—Martha Brockenbrough, author of The Game of Love and Death
- "The link between the two units is advocacy, for it is of vital importance to have an advocate in life, whether this person be a family member or friend. This is a dynamic story about the power of friendship and the resilience of the human spirit."—School Library Connection
- On Sale
- Mar 24, 2020
- Page Count
- 386 pages
- Running Press Kids