Foreword Reviews INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Finalist!
Some endings are inevitable, but so are some stories.
Cora Matthews, the principalâs gloomy goth daughter, is not exactly popular Duke Meyerâs type. Still, Duke finds himself inexplicably drawn to her dark eyes and mysterious manner. She makes it clear she doesnât return his admiration, but when a burst appendix lands Duke in the hospital, he and Cora will be forced to come together by the most unlikely intermediary: her eight-year-old brother, Jaime.
Duke learns Jaime has brain cancer and little chance of long-term survival. He admires the kidâs plucky positivity and wild imagination and offers to write a story about Jaimeâs make-believe superheroes. So begins an epic taleâthat of Ghostboy, Chameleon, and the Duke of Graffitiâand a deep friendship between Duke and Jaime.
Despite their outward differences, Cora and Duke bond over their affection for Jaime, but unintended betrayal and Jaimeâs advancing disease threaten to derail their blossoming romance before it can truly take root.
Ghostboy, Chameleon & the Duke of Graffiti is a gorgeous debut novel that will resonate with the thoughtful fans of John Greenâs blockbuster The Fault in Our Stars.
Olivia Wildenstein grew up in New York City, the daughter of a French father with a great sense of humor, and a Swedish mother whom she speaks to at least three times a day. She chose Brown University to complete her undergraduate studies and earned a bachelorâs in comparative literature. After designing jewelry for a few years, Wildenstein traded in her tools for a laptop computer and a very comfortable chair. This line of work made more sense, considering her college degree.
When sheâs not writing, sheâs psychoanalyzing everyone she meets (Yes. Everyone), eavesdropping on conversations to gather material for her next book, baking up a storm (that she actually eats), going to the gym (because she eats), and attempting not to be late at her childrenâs school (like she is 4 out of 5 mornings, on good weeks).
Wildenstein lives with her husband and three children in Geneva, Switzerland, where sheâs an active member of the writing community.
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A bright light pressed against my clasped lids. Aliens were drifting down from their spaceship to take me home. I was being abducted.
âNo,â I mumbled. âIâm not coming with you.â
âHuh?â was the alienâs response. It creased its triangular forehead. âYou donât have to. You can stay right here.â
The alien had a childish voice. Bizarre, considering the number of wrinkles on its purple skin.
âI have no interest in your planet,â I said again.
My eyelids flipped up and I jerked backward from the flashlight shining in my face. The movement awakened the incision on my right side, making the whole area ache.
âHi,â said the childish alien voice.
âTurn that thing off,â I muttered.
The handheld flashlight snapped off, but my bedside lamp switched on, revealing a small and very human boy.
âOh, sorry. I didnât mean to wake you,â he said.
âYes, you did,â I said grumpily.
âOkay, maybe I did.â He shifted on his feet. His head was leveled with mine, yet he was standing. âIâm Jaime. Youâve been out for a long time.â
I rolled my eyes toward the ceiling. âItâs called sleeping. Thatâs what people do at night.â
âI canât sleep,â he said.
âI can see that.â
âWhatâs your name?â he asked.
I was tempted to ignore him, but he seemed too young to be alone in a hospital at night. âDuke. Duke Meyer.â
âNo way!â he whispered, seemingly in awe. âIâm sharing my room with the Duke of Graffiti? The guy who spray-painted the woodie on the woodie?â
âDo you even know what a woodie is?â
Maybe he wasnât as young as I thought he was.
âHow did you hear about theâ¦incident?â I asked.
âGreenwich is small.â
The story mustâve spread from my classmates to the rest of their families, and thus to our entire town.
âYouâre, like, my hero,â he said.
âHero, huh? I vandalized someoneâs car. Not very heroic.â
âI know. Still thought it was cool, though.â
âGlad I made your day then,â I said. âAre you here by yourself?â
âNo. Youâre here too. You werenât abducted by aliens.â
I cocked a brow and a jolt of pain radiated through my forehead. âOuch.â
âI never had appendicitis,â Jaime said, toying with the strings that kept his Batman pajama bottoms up. âDoes it hurt?â
âThereâs some pain medication on your table. You wannit?â he asked.
I shot out my palm and he dropped two tablets into it. I swallowed them and then chased them with the cup of water he gave me.
âAre you sure they were pain meds?â I asked, suddenly more awake.
âThey could have been peanut M&Ms. Did they taste chocolaty?â
âDonât worry,â he said. âThey were pain meds. Iâm used to taking them.â
âReally? Why?â I asked.
âFor pain. Duh.â
âYouâre a smart aleck, arenât you?â
He grinned and thick black lashes blinked down over blue eyes that seemed to take up a third of his face. âSo where did the aliens want to take you?â he asked, going to sit on his bed. I could see it now that heâd drawn the divider open.
âOn their spaceship,â I said.
âI would totally go.â
âYouâd go with a bunch of creepy, triangular-headed dudes on a spacecraft destined for God-knows-where? Get outâ¦You would never set foot on that thing. Youâd probably run home crying to your mommy.â
âMy momâs dead, and I donât cry.â
âOh. Sorry, Iâ¦ummâ¦didnât mean toââ
âThatâs fine.â He shrugged his narrow shoulders. âShe died when I was born, so I never knew her.â
âHow old are you?â
âEight. What happened to your forehead?â he asked.
âSliced it open.â
âI fell against a metal weight rack,â I said.
He giggled and I noticed he was missing two teeth.
âWhat?â I asked.
âYou should make up a cooler story. Like you were cut with a knife while defending a woman and her baby in Montgomery Park.â
âOkayâ¦â I didnât want to shoot the kidâs idea down, but I wasnât going to brag about some fabricated feat.
âYouâre not gonna do it, are you?â
âWhat?â I asked. âLie?â
He scrunched his brow in disappointment, and gaped down at his bare feet that swung without touching the floor.
âHow about I tell people I was juggling ninja stars, and one slipped and carved out my forehead?â
He looked back up at me. âCool. But not as cool as my story. How about you got caught by government spies, and they tortured you because they thought you were harboring a Colombian drug lord in your basement?â
âUmmâ¦You have a very active imagination, donât you?â
âI read a lot.â
He was rolling a piece of the rumpled bed sheet between his thumb and index. âIt takes my mind off things.â
I grunted. âWhat sort of things do you have going on at eight?â
âJust because Iâm young doesnât mean I have no life.â
âThatâs not what I meant, Jaime.â
A long silence set in. Rubber soles squeaked just outside our door. I wondered if someone was coming to check on us, but the footsteps continued and then petered out.
âWhy are you in the hospital?â I asked.
âI donât want to talk about it,â he mumbled.
My gaze darted to the small pile of comics on his nightstand.
âDo you like comic books?â he asked, following my line of sight. His voice had perked up again.
âDo you want to borrow one?â
âSure. Itâs not like I can sleep anymore,â I added under my breath.
He didnât say he was sorry. Probably because he wasnât. He slid off his bed and carried over a few books. I selected a Superman, which looked as though it had basked in the sun for a decade.
Jaime peered at the cover. âLois Laneâs going to activate a de-aging machine and turn herself into a baby, but Clark Kent will give her the antidote. He puts it in a baby bottle to teach her a lesson.â
âI wouldnât want to watch a thriller with you,â I said.
âItâs all right. Iâll just find something else to read.â I took another book from the pile heâd placed on my tray. It was an equally vintage-looking comic strip. The colored ink had turned sepia, like the family photographs on my grandmotherâs nightstand.
âI think thatâs the one where Archie marries Veronica,â he said.
âShow me the last page?â he asked.
I flipped to the last page and held it out so only he could see it.
âYup. I was right.â
I sighed. âI guess I wonât be reading that one either.â
âJust because you know the ending doesnât mean you shouldnât read it,â he said as the door of our bedroom flew open.
âWell, slap my head and call me silly! You boys havinâ a party without me?â Hummer-nurse winked at Jaime but shooed him off my mattress. âItâs the middle of the night, hun. Off to sleep or Iâll get in trouble with your daddy.â
âOkay,â he grumbled. She tucked him underneath the covers and then replaced my empty IV bag with a fresh one. âWhat time did you take those pills I left ya?â
âAbout ten minutes ago.â
She checked my blood pressure and bandages and then clicked off my nightlight. âYouâll be outta here before the dayâs out. Healthy as an ox. You need anythinâ else?â
âI wouldnât mind another glass of water,â I said.
âCominâ right up. And you, hun?â she asked Jaime.
âIâll be back before you can spell Yolanda,â she said.
âThanks, Yolanda,â Jaime said.
âAnythinâ for you, sweet pea.â She stood still for a second, staring at him.
When she left, Jaime whispered, âYolandaâll give you some candy if you get on her good side.â
I squelched my first thought, which was, how do you know that? Obviously, heâd spent a lot of time in this hospital. Even though I was curious, I didnât try to coax it out of him. Maybe Yolanda would tell me. âHow do you get on her good side?â
âTalk to her about her cats,â he whispered. âShe loves cats.â
Just as he said that, she trundled back into the room and put a glass of water on both our trays. âNighty night, boys,â she said, before leaving and closing our door.
âHey, Duke,â Jaime said, his voice low.
âCould you tell me a story?â he asked.
I chewed on my lip, trying to come up with something that would entertain an eight-year-old. I decided on the alien abduction tale, but this time they were taking Jaime back to their planet, which was salmon colored because fire raged underneath the white rocks, and the air was devoid of gravity, so you could fly around. As I wove a more complex plot about kidnapping specific humans to bring new skill sets to their planet, I realized that I wouldnât have minded being abducted by aliens after all.
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