I had planned on having a book review ready for this tour, but some personal issues have come up this week putting me behind on my reading. I will try to review the novel separately sometime next week. So far, I’m enjoying it and I’m happy to promote this author to my loyal readers. It’s a contemporary novel of mental illness told from the point of view of a girl who sees life as a fairy tale. Sounds awesome, right? Look below for a story excerpt.
Michael F. Stewart
Publication date: August 14th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
The Breakfast Club meets Grimm’s Fairy Tales in the lair of an adolescent psych ward.
Milly’s evil stepmother commits her to a pediatric psych ward. That’s just what the wolf wants. With bunk mates like Red, who’s spiraling out of control; Pig, a fire-bug who claims Milly as her own—but just wants extra dessert—Vanet, a manic teen masquerading as a fairy godmother with wish-granting powers as likely to kill as to help; and the mysterious Wolfgang, rumored to roam for blood at night; it doesn’t take long for Milly to realize that only her dead mother’s book of tales can save her.
But Milly’s spells of protection weaken as her wolf stalks the hospital corridors. The ward’s a Dark Wood, and she’s not alone. As her power crumbles, she must let go of her magic and discover new weapons if she is to transform from hunted to hunter.
The wolf hunts.
It prowls as I hurry down the hall past teenagers scavenging for pencils and kisses. Locker doors slam and laughter sprays like gunshots, but I ignore the jibes. I’ve bigger things to worry about. Like the wolf. Like the fire door. It’s a door in the middle of the hallway. For me, that door might as well be a bank of thorns. It might as well be a dragon’s hellish maw. But the wolf hunts, and through that door is my only escape.
I start to count. This is the important part. I have to count right. Not too fast, nor too slow. All the way to one hundred. It must be spoken aloud, without interruption. Whispering is acceptable; the count keeps my wolf to the Dark Wood. It keeps me on safety’s slender path.
Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen . . .
Stephanie, a pert blonde whose butt I used to kick on the basketball court, leans against the doorframe and raises an eyebrow. “I love this next bit,” she says, pulling her phone out and holding it like a magic wand. “This is Steph Lattersby reporting from Hopedell High School. What you are about to witness is the magical thinking of fifteen-year-old Milly Malone, as she prepares to leap over whatever chasm she is presently hallucinating.”
It’s no chasm. My mother told the story best.
There once was a girl who was the wolf’s coveted meal. Every day she would wake to the wolf huffing and puffing at her door, and every night it would hunt the girl in her dreams. Then one day she learned a magic spell. If she counted to one hundred before going through doors, eating meals, and any speech, she could banish the wolf to the Dark Wood and survive in the world as long as she stayed on the clear path. But, each day, the wolf grew hungrier, waiting for her to step off the trail, and for her spell to break . . .
That’s what I fear the most. That one day my magic count won’t work.
My mouth dries as I whisper, and I struggle to keep the count slow and steady. Forty-two, forty-three, forty-four . . . but my wolf has crept behind me and bent its head low. Yellow eyes burrow into my spine. The gray wolf, mountainous, savage, and unrelenting.
“This could take a while, folks,” Stephanie says in a deep, queenly voice. “You’ll have to wait like everyone else does here for this very special princess.”
Sixty-six, sixty-seven . . . Other students stop to see what Stephanie records—scavengers after my bones. Some, having figured out that it’s me, roll their eyes and move on, but the rest—most of them—fold their arms and wait with Stephanie, lips lifted to show teeth, eyes as bright as the wolf’s.
Hot breath blows rank and moist on hands I hold tight to my thighs.
I can run, but that would be into the Dark Wood, and from its shadows I might never return.
Seventy-seven, seventy-eight . . . I tense, ready for paws to clamp down on my shoulders, for claws to sink into my bony chest. It’s so strong. I can’t keep it back much longer.
“I think she said eighty-nine. Get ready—here comes the magic.” Stephanie’s voice lifts. “This is going to be fabulous! Stupendous!”
The students begin to clap with my counting, but they’re not on beat. Their poor timing makes it more difficult. Tears stream down my cheeks. If only they could hear me screaming inside, if they understood that I did this for them. The wood looms at the edges of my vision, branches entwining and bearing down, groping.
Something swipes at my shoulder. I shout the remaining count. “Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred!”
I clench my hands and eyes, bend at the knee, and hop through the doors.
The cheer is half cackle. “See, what did I tell you? Wasn’t that amazing?” Stephanie continues, but I don’t care. The woods have fallen away. I draw deep cleansing breaths. The hall shines with summery fluorescent light. My fingers probe my shoulder for the claw marks. Nothing. I beat the wolf back—for now.
Michael F. Stewart is winner of both the 2015 Claymore Award and the 2014 inaugural Creation of Stories Award for best YA novel at the Toronto International Book Fair.
He likes to combine storytelling with technology and pioneered interactive storytelling with Scholastic Canada, Australia, and New Zealand’s, anti-cyberbullying program Bully For You. In addition to his award winning Assured Destruction series, he has authored four graphic novels with Oxford University Press Canada’s Boldprint series. Publications of nonfiction titles on Corruption and Children’s Rights are published by Scholastic and early readers are out with Pearson Education.
For adults, Michael has written THE SAND DRAGON a horror about a revenant prehistoric vampire set in the tar sands, HURAKAN a Mayan themed thriller which pits the Maya against the MS-13 with a New York family stuck in the middle, 24 BONES an urban fantasy which draws from Egyptian myth, and THE TERMINALS–a covert government unit which solves crimes in this realm by investigating them in the next.
Herder of four daughters, Michael lives to write in Ottawa where he was the Ottawa Public Library’s first Writer in Residence. To learn more about Michael and his next projects visit his website at http://www.michaelfstewart.com or connect via Twitter @MichaelFStewart.
Michael is represented by Talcott Notch.
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