By Corrie Wang
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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 August 18, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
A teenage girl living in a post-nuclear town embarks on a quest to save her brother from the other side of a dividd world in this dystopian adventure novel for fans of Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now.
For seventeen years, fees have lived separate from beasts. The division of the sexes has kept their world peaceful. Glori Rhodes is like most other fees her age. She adores her neighborhood’s abandoned Costco, can bench her body weight, and she knew twenty-seven beast counterattack moves by the time she was seven. She has never questioned the separation of the sexes or the rules that keep her post-nuclear hometown safe. But when her mother secretly gives birth to a baby beast, Glori grows to love the child and can’t help wondering: What really is the difference between us and them?
When her brother, at the age of five, is snatched in a vicious raid, Glori and her best friend, Su, do the unthinkable — covertly infiltrate the City of Beasts to get him back. What’s meant to be a smash-and-grab job quickly becomes the adventure of a lifetime as the fees team up with a fast-talking, T-shirt cannon-wielding beast named Sway, and Glori starts to see that there’s more to males, and her own history, than she’s been taught.
Copyright © 2019 by Corrie Wang
Designed by Phil Buchanan
Cover lettering © 2019 by ILOVEDUST
Cover design by Phil Buchanan
All rights reserved. Published by Freeform Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Freeform Books, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
really, they’re all for you
I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue,
I’d go crawling down the avenue.
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love.
—a male named Bob Dylan
All the science in this novel is fact-based.
Everything else is entirely made-up.
“Hey, Twofer, who loves you even more than she loves corn bread with berries?”
It was the deepest of the dark hours, and Two Five was hiding in the space next to my bed, scraping at a chip of paint that was flaking off the baseboard. I wedged myself in alongside it.
“Glori does,” I answered myself.
The day had started fine. We’d gone to Costco, and I pulled Twofer around the empty aisles on the patched river float I’d scavenged a few years back. After, we’d played hide-and-seek for the thousandth time, then raced back to the house. Niraasha was on duty, and we had our lessons. Then everyone came home from career and school. All fine-ness crumbled at dinner. Su snapped at Twofer for eating too loudly. I scolded it for not saying please when asking for dessert. And Liyan shooed it from the kitchen when it offered to help with dishes. And Grand? She was avoiding it like usual and still hadn’t come home yet.
“Hey, Two Five, who loves you more than she loves putting rocks in Liyan’s shoes?”
I bumped its tiny shoulder. This time a muttered reply. “Glori does.”
“That’s right. Who loves you more than she loves drawing Su while she’s sleeping?” I tilted my head back, mouth wide open.
A giggle. It was instantly happy again. “Glori does.”
“And who loves me more than catching crickets for dinner?”
Standing up, Twofer pointed at itself and whispered, “Glori does!” then squealed with delight at its smarty-pants flub and flung itself into my embrace. And right then, I knew I loved that little beast more than the bright green of new growing things. More than temperate evenings or a full belly. Really, more than anything else in the world. So I suggested the one thing I knew it needed. Which also happened to be the one thing we weren’t allowed to do.
“Want to go see the neighborhood?” I whispered.
Two Five gave a little gasp and nodded seriously with big, round eyes.
So we did.
A few hours later, the beasts came and stole Two Five away.
“If you see a beast and you have the shot, don’t hesitate. Kill it.”
Su and I are sitting on our cracked driveway as her mom, Liyan, checks her bicycle tires. Forgoing her solar flashlight, she moves quickly and works mainly by feel. We’re all used to the dark, but on this freezing, moon-hidden night this new cul-de-sac feels even more desolate than our last one, considering the nonworking streetlights and deserted houses are essentially the same.
Across the street, a section of broken vinyl siding flaps in the wind. We all jump.
“But if there’s more beasts than you can handle,” Liyan continues, glaring out into the darkness, “what do you do? Su?”
With a smirk, Su pretends to slo-mo swing a hatchet. “I chop them all into tiny bits.”
I’m only half listening. We’ve been through this beast protocol what feels like every day of our last seventeen years. Prior to this morning, the lessons had begun to seem like superstitious safety precautions. Like not stepping on sidewalk cracks. Now the beasts had actually attacked. And they didn’t only snatch Two Five. They raided the neighborhood, too. Killing seven of our most senior fees in the process.
Liyan smacks Su on the back of her freshly shaved head.
“Ow, Ma.” Su winces. “Okay, okay. If there’s more beasts than we can handle and we haven’t been spotted, we stay hidden. If we have been spotted, we run.”
“And how many is ‘more beasts than you can handle’?” Liyan asks.
Su rolls her eyes. “More than one absurd, measly beast per fee.”
Liyan nods curtly as my Grand Mati hurries from the house carrying her pack and both of their weapons. We call her Grand because with her signature messy braid and DNA-strand finger tattoos, she barely looks older than my mom, so grandma has always seemed ill-fitting. Grand because with her sun-warm laughter and biting wit, she quite simply is.
Every single thing about her.
“Absurd,” my grand snaps, “is getting killed because you put yourself in jeopardy when you just as easily could have kept yourself safe. Fees don’t take uncalculated risks.”
This is meant for me, but as my grand tosses Liyan the katana that usually hangs above the fireplace, I feign deafness. We spent the entire day moving from our old house to this one a few ’sacs over. We’d considered this house when we first moved out here years ago. Grand had liked the three-story roof’s vantage point, but there had still been two corpses sitting at the kitchen table.
“Pass,” I remember Su and me saying simultaneously.
Now the bodies are gone. And if my grand and Liyan would leave already, Su and I would be, too.
“We’ll message as soon as we get to the labs,” Grand says, affixing her arm-length electric cattle prod to her bike. “Keep your portables charged. Lock the doors. Stay in the same rooms but don’t sleep at the same time. No lights of any kind after dark. Obviously don’t go near the shore, and if you hear screams coming from the neighborhood, stay put, you hear me?”
“Yes,” Su and I say, both shocked by her tone. But because I am angry and scared, I also mumble, “It’s not like we are inexperienced with the effects of a beast attack.”
As one, we all look in through the living room window. Even in the pitch-blackness, Majesty’s skeletal outline is visible on the sofa.
Majesty. That was what my grand named my mother. This was around the time when natural disasters were wiping out island nations and coastal shorelines. When fees were choosing names for their daughters that were wistfully optimistic. Prosperity. Peace. Hope. In every language under the sun.
It’s been almost six years since she escaped from the beasts. More and more her name feels like a cruel joke. It’s been months since I’ve even heard her speak. Until this morning.
“What about Two Five?” I ask, my voice breaking ever so slightly as they rush to leave.
Eight hours, Twofer’s been gone. In that time, our EMS killed the two beasts that murdered our fees. My Grand Mati has made three trips into the neighborhood to console the victims’ families. Twice she’s gone to the labs to do “damage and retaliation control.” She has exchanged countless heated PTT messages with various fees. Yet not once has she mentioned a plan for getting Two Five back.
Now she comes to me and puts her forehead against mine.
“Glori, I lost Two Five and seven of my closest friends today. I can’t risk any more lives sending fees across the river to look for Twofer and…” She presses on as I try to protest. “I need all the EMS here protecting us. But I promise you—I promise—the beasts will not get away with this.”
The wind picks up and blows in an unmistakable scent. Snow’s coming. Soon and a lot. Of course she wouldn’t attempt a rescue. Twofer being gone solves so many problems.
“Mati,” Liyan says, releasing Su from a swift hug. “We have to go.”
“I love you, Spark Plug,” my grand says, a hand pressed to my cheek.
She waits a beat for me to reply, but I don’t, and a moment later Su and I are watching their breath trail them in frosty clouds as they pedal away.
No sooner are they out of sight than Su asks, “You ready, Roach?”
It sounds more like You sure?
I get the hesitation. Not only does Su not love Twofer as much as I do, but our wing chung and cross-training and survival skills all assume beasts coming to attack us. Now we’re going there. And truth?
We don’t have any inkling what to expect.
Yet I nod confidently as I pull a knit cap on to cover my coiled braids. Running back inside for our packs, I kiss a nonresponsive Majesty on her dry cheek, then hurriedly write a note with our last working pen. My letters rough and unpracticed.
We leave it on the kitchen table.
Don’t be mad.
Know you’re busy.
Went to save Two Five.
Me, hoping most of that would be true.
Itami is supposed to be on watch at the guard post that’s closest to where Su and I are crossing the river. But when we arrive there, it’s empty.
“Either it’s our lucky day or we’re all doomed,” Su says, gazing up at the ruined bridge.
It’s not like an EMS to leave her post.
Wasting no time worrying about it, Su picks her way down the rocky riverbank, then hauls branches off our family’s hidden “emergency only” kayak. I’m halfway down to help when I catch a gleam in the grasses that have grown up around the old 190 highway. I almost ignore it but instead hurry back. It’s a car. One that wasn’t here before. One that I saw this very morning driving Two Five away.
“Holy crow,” I say under my breath.
Both front doors and the back right one are thrown wide open, and the tiniest part of me expects to see Twofer inside. Alive. Sleeping, maybe.
But of course, it’s empty.
“Glori, this is no time to scavenge,” Su calls out urgently.
“This is the car that Two Five was taken in.”
Incredibly, it’s an old gas model. The tank on E. The ignition broken apart and hot-wired. I vaguely remember seeing it parked in a driveway a few streets over from the ’sac. And there’s something pink on the floor, wedged beneath the driver’s seat. I yank it out. It’s a realistic animal mask. A pig. Up front, I find two others. A bear and… my brain reaches for the word… a gorilla. There were three of them, then.
I hold up the bear mask. “This is what Twofer saw when they grabbed it.”
Su looks, then quickly busies herself with the kayak.
“That can’t be helped now. Come on. Itami’s pee break won’t last forever.”
Shoving the masks in my pack, we quickly change out of our fee tunics and leggings. Liyan said beasts still scavenged clothing instead of making their own, so we dress in pre-Night sweaters, sweatshirts, jeans, and trench coats I found crumpled in a closet of our new house.
“Su, I have something to tell you,” I say once we’re in the kayak, paddling against the river’s frigid current. “Last night after everyone went to sleep, I took Two Five for a bike ride through the neighborhood. I think it’s my fault the beasts attacked and stole Twofer.”
“Glori, what were you thinking?” Su scolds, grunting as the current tries to veer us downstream, toward the Falls. But then she relents. “I doubt it’s your fault, though. How could the beasts know you did that? And why would they wait a whole six hours to attack? Why not take Two Five right then?”
“Maybe they went back for reinforcements,” I say, breathless.
“Then how did they know where we live? We’re two miles outside the neighborhood. Other fees barely know where we live. The beasts didn’t come because of that bike ride. It was just stupid dumb luck that they found us. Now stop amplifying your importance and please put your back into this.”
Maybe she’s right. Su liked to tease me that I could see a mosquito coming a mile away. And last night as we rode through town, not a single shadow shifted. Not one curtain in an abandoned house so much as shivered. I’m positive.
Perhaps we too vigorously followed Su’s directive, because our kayak rams the far shore. We stumble out and drag it up the bank.
“Holy waste,” Su says, giving each word extra syllables.
Our whole lives we’ve gazed across the river to this side, never imagining it was crossable and never caring to try. Yet now we’re here on this cracked and rutted street. Derelict high-rise apartments loom above us. And as if it’s meant specifically for us, a pre-Night highway sign reads:
A SAFE HARBOR CITY
The City of Beasts.
“Tell me the plan again?” Su asks.
There is no plan. But as my grand said, fees do not take uncalculated risks. Nor do we function well under ill-preparedness. As Su’s eyes flick upward to all the abandoned-yet-new-looking apartments, I reply with more confidence than I feel.
“We capture a beast and make it tell us where Two Five is.”
“But what if it doesn’t know?” Su asks.
“How could it not?” On Grand Island, every fee knows every other. “We have roughly the same population size. Can you imagine not knowing about something big like this in the neighborhood?”
“Yeah, Roach.” Su snorts. “I can exactly imagine that, since that is exactly our lives.”
We were a special case. Almost six years ago now, my mother went for a nighttime run along the river and never came home. Majesty was our fiercest fighter, and yet she became the first fee snatched by a beast in over a decade.
Then one dusky morning, as life was starting to feel normal again, one of our safety officers spotted her standing at the entrance to the remaining Grand Island Bridge. Battered. Bleeding. The SO ran out to retrieve her and even now, years later, I’m still not sure who they returned with. It’s as if the brilliant, furious light inside of her has been entirely snuffed out.
We didn’t find out until a month later that she was pregnant. That same day, my grand moved us out of the neighborhood to our cul-de-sac. Almost like she knew that when Majesty had the baby, it would be a beast.
We’ve been keeping Twofer a secret ever since.
“Mom calls these Die Rises, you know.” Su stops and eyes all the apartment buildings. “She says the beasts didn’t clear any of the bodies.”
Realistically, how could they? On Nuclear Night, mass death was only instantaneous in some cities. Foul winds caught and orphaned the rest of us with their radiation poisoning. Since hospital staffs were as hard hit as everyone else, most people died at home. That means we are surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of corpses right now.
The wind picks up. I shiver.
“Let’s keep moving.”
A snowflake falls. Then another. Now that the snow’s begun, it’ll come fast. Accordingly, when we come to a wide-open intersection a few minutes later, fat snowflakes are already snagging on our eyelashes. We take cover behind a pre-Night garbage can. A Burger King Green is ahead on the left and another structure with faded yellow arches and the word organic cutting through them is on our right. An old newspaper box is next to the garbage can, the sun-faded headline barely legible: “WWIII: RUSSIA FIRES BACK.”
“I’m all for caution,” Su says when I put a hand on her arm and continue to observe our environment. “But we can’t stop at every intersection we come to. This is obviously a dead zone. Not even a beast would choose to live here. Besides, this place is mammoth compared to Grand Island. It’ll probably take us days to hunt one down.”
“Gimme a minute.”
I peer up at the buildings. Every window is dark, yet I can feel eyes nipping at us. Like gnats in the hot months. Across the street, a metal sign furiously swings in the biting wind. KINSEY’S FRESH CUT FLOWERS. Something’s not right.
Su sighs. “Glor, we don’t have time for this. The beasts could attack at any moment.”
“Yeah. That’s what I’m checking for.”
“I didn’t mean us. I meant home.”
Before I can grab her, Su is sprinting through the intersection. Just as fast, I see what I missed before. There are tire tracks in the snow. Fresh ones.
Halfway across the intersection, Su is suddenly bathed in light.
She drops to a crouch. Freezes.
The light comes from the Burger King Green parking lot. It’s the headlights from one of the same driverless trucks that litter our roadsides. Which must mean the beasts figured out how to bypass the dead GPS and override the computer error screen. Oh good. Smart ones, then. There’s a plow on the front and a solar panel attached to the hood and bones painted on the tires.
Both doors open.
Enough smoke pours out to warrant a bucket of water. And with it?
Actual living beasts.
There are five of them. Three more than Liyan’s stay-and-fight protocol allows. They all walk upright. Which I guess I knew but still didn’t expect. One is noticeably larger than the others, and it takes point. And maybe it’s a trick of the backlighting or the snow flurries, but from where I’m crouched, its skin looks blue. Like, old calendar photos of the ocean blue.
“Oye,” the blue beast shouts. “You mayor’s, little norm?”
English. I think. I recognize the words, but the meaning makes no sense.
Snubbing a lifetime of training, Su is still frozen in the middle of the street.
Music blares from the truck’s speakers. If you can call it music. A flat high tone that has a drumbeat pounding into it, but no fee rapping or singing over it.
“Glori?” Su whispers, petrified.
The beasts move toward her, like a swarm of hornets. There are smiley-face decals on the truck’s headlights. They cast wicked grins on the building behind us.
“Coming to meet a mate?” the blue beast calls. “Get a bump, maybe?”
Su is more frozen than the icicles hanging from the street signs. The beasts are only ten feet from her. Then five. Goodness gracious. They’re not even that big.
I stand up and shout, “Do Bye-Bye, Night-Night.”
The beasts all spin on me. My command kicks Su’s reflexes into gear. As the snow flurries lull, she fumbles a slim metal tube from her breast pocket. I take a similar one from mine.
“Oy! Hands where I can see them!” the blue beast shouts.
“Don’t dart the leader!” I yell as Su brings the tube to her lips.
But it’s too late.
Next second, the blue beast raises a paw to its face and fingers the tiny tranquilizer dart that’s planted in its cheek. Around it the others crumple, each of them with one of my darts sticking out of their faces. Su darted the leader, and I got everyone else. The blue beast goes down a second later.
“Bye-bye,” I say breathlessly as I run up to Su.
“Night-night,” she finishes.
We grip each other in a tight hug.
“Sorry,” she says as soon as I release her. “I got scared, then excited. Thanks be that I preloaded. I didn’t know I could blow that fast. And in this wind. I’d like to see Cocoa do that.”
I can see the divots in the snow where most of her darts landed, but I won’t ruin her triumph by telling her she didn’t blow that fast. I did.
Instead I roll my eyes. “Yes. You are very impressive.”
Just as I stoop to bind the beasts’ hands and feet, a flash of color dashes from the shadows to the beasts’ truck. So much for this area being deserted. There’s another one out there. As I yank out Mama Bear the door of the building behind us slams open. A beast wearing an old bathrobe and hiking boots gestures at us frantically.
“In here. Quick. More will come.”
The beast is shorter than me and less muscular than Su, with thin lips and a weak chin. Radiation-burn-induced keloid scars ravage the right side of its face, but the left is bumpy, like dozens of cherry-pit–size balls have been implanted underneath its skin. Radiation poisoning gave you mouth ulcers, peeling skin, fever, and lifelong lethargy. It took away your white blood corpuscles. It made you sterile. And if you were 95 percent of the global population, it killed you.
Radiation didn’t do this or turn your skin blue.
“You’re looking for the little one, yes? Them too. But Cutter knows where he is.” It pats its own chest. “Cutter can help. Come. Come.”
“You know where Two Five is?” I ask, not bothering to hide my disbelief.
At the sound of my voice, the beast shivers.
“Cutter saw him. At the river. Please. Come, come. Cutter means you no harm.”
Still talking, it is absorbed back into the pitch-blackness behind it.
“Nice knowing you,” Su says, and slaps a hand into my belly.
But then one of the tranquilized beasts lets out a groan. Another twitches and tries to roll over on his stomach. The darts are supposed to last ten times as long as this. Or, at least, they would have two decades ago when they were first manufactured.
“One third-person-narrative beast or five angry ones?” I ask.
“Let the record show, I do not have a good feeling about this,” Su grunts as she unsheathes her hatchet.
“Don’t worry. We won’t be here long.”
“Yeah. That’s kind of what I’m afraid of.”
The moment we step into the gloom and shut the door, Cutter is beside me.
“Miraculous. Cutter knows what you are. Cutter knew the minute he saw you.” It leans in and breathes rank air on my face through rotten teeth. “You’re women.”
How long has it been since I’ve heard or read that word? It came from a different time. A time before the ice caps released their carbon. And the oceans rose. And the planet became a place of mainly insufferably hot and unsustainably cold regions. Before Buffalo’s population exploded thanks to its facsimile of a spring and autumn. This was back before a hacker accessed our countries’ nuclear codes and blew everything up. Before the ensuing retaliations. Before the majority of the world’s population died or was orphaned practically overnight.
Back from a time when beasts and fees still lived together. When both weren’t rendered (mostly) sterile by radiation. Before a beast named Fortitude Packer rose from the ashes that were Buffalo and campaigned for a lifestyle of scavenging and riches, drawing hordes of other beasts into his fold. Before a fee named Matricula Rhodes stepped forward and championed fairness and order. Back before things got nasty and Fortitude introduced his ridiculous Breeder Bill. Before everything got violent and someone shot Fortitude in the head and fees fled to Grand Island for safety. To live separately.
It was only supposed to be temporary.
Praise for City of Beasts:
"Readers who enjoy the fast-paced desperation of Jay Kristoff's Lifelike series and Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now will appreciate the pulse-pounding intensity of this thriller."—School Library Journal
"Glori, the beasts, and the readers all have something to learn about gender, difference, and relationships, whether in the present or the apocalypse. Quirky characters offset darker themes, making this a brutal yet optimistic portrayal of a possible future."—Kirkus Reviews
"A page-turning dystopian novel that explores the divisions that differences can engender and the things that can, sometimes, mend them. "—Publishers Weekly
"Wang has managed to write an exciting, prescient story that brings to mind the unlikely combination of M.T. Anderson's Feed, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, and Sara Shepard's Pretty Little Liars series, with a little of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy and the cult classic film Heathers thrown in the mix. . . . Highly recommended."—School Library Journal
"Wang's smart, technocentric debut-Gossip Girl meets M.T. Anderson's Feed-addresses identity, public perception, and social media skewering."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Aug 18, 2020
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers