Read an exclusive excerpt from April Genevieve Tucholke's upcoming novel 'Wink Poppy Midnight'
April Genevieve Tucholke‘s third novel will hit shelves next year, and EW has your exclusive first look at the cover as well as what’s inside the pages of the upcoming YA mystery, Wink Poppy Midnight.
Wink Poppy Midnight follows three separate narrators — Wink, Poppy, and Midnight — each with their own (very different) version of the story to tell. But, of course, there’s a much bigger picture to be discovered as the tales intertwine. Here’s the official description:
Check out the excerpt and cover below. Wink Poppy Midnight debuts March 22, 2016.
The first time I slept with Poppy, I cried. We were both sixteen, and I’d been in love with her since I was kid, since I was still reading monster comics and spending too much time practicing sleight-of-hand tricks because I wanted to be a magician.
People say you can’t feel real love that young, but I did. For Poppy.
She was the girl next door who fell off her bike and laughed at her bloody knees. She was the neighborhood hero who organized games of Burn the Witch and got everyone to play. She was the high school queen who reached forward one day during math class, grabbed Holly Trueblood’s thick, white-blond hair in her fist, and cut it off at the skull while Holly screamed and screamed. All because someone said Holly’s hair was prettier than her own.
She was Poppy.
After we slept together, I started crying. Just a little bit, just because my heart was so full, just a couple of small little tears. Poppy shoved me off, stood up, and laughed. It wasn’t a nice laugh. It wasn’t a We both lost IT together, how wicked of us, how fantastic, I will always love you because we did this One Big Thing for the first time together kind of laugh.
No, it was more of a Is that all it is? And you’re crying over it? kind of laugh.
Poppy slipped her long, white limbs into her pale yellow dress, like milk sliding into melted butter. She was bonier back then, and didn’t need to wear a bra. She stood in front of the lamp, facing me, and the ray of light shone right through her thin summer clothes, outlining her sweet girl parts in a way I would think of over and over again afterward, until it drove me insane.
“Midnight, you’re going to be the best-looking guy in school by senior year.” Poppy leaned her elbows on the windowsill and stared out at the dark. Our high mountain air was thin, but clean, and it smelled even better at night. Pine and juniper and earth. The night smells mingled with the smell of jasmine—Poppy dabbed it from a tiny glass bottle in her pocket, each earlobe, each wrist.
“That’s why I let you have me first. I wanted to give it to him. He’s the only boy I’ll ever love. But you don’t know anything about him, and I’m not going to tell you anything about him.”
My heart stopped. Started back up again. “Poppy.” My voice was weak and whispery and I hated it.
She tapped her fingers on the sill and ignored me.
An owl hooted outside.
Poppy swept her blond hair back behind her shoulder in that gangly, awkward
way she still had then. It was completely gone by the time school started up—she was nothing but smooth elegance and cold, precise movements.
“And now no one will be able to say I didn’t have taste, Midnight Hunt, even when I was young. You’re going to be so beautiful at eighteen that girls will melt just looking at you, your long black lashes, your glossy brown hair, your blue, blue eyes. But I had you first, and you had me first. And it was a good move, on my part. A brilliant move.”
And then came the year of me following Poppy around, my heart full of poetry and bursting with love, and never seeing how little she really cared, no matter how many times I had her in my arms and how many times she laughed at me afterward. No matter how many times she made fun of me in front of her friends. No matter how many times I told her I loved her and she never said it back. Not once. Not even close.
Every story needs a Hero.
Mim read it in my tea leaves the day Midnight moved in next door. She leaned over, pushed my hair out of the way, put her fingers on my chin, and said: “Your story is about to begin, and that boy moving boxes into the slanted old house across the road is the start of it.”
And I knew Mim was right about Midnight because the leaves also told her that the big rooster was going die a bloody death in the night. And sure enough, a fox got him. We found him in the morning, his soft feathers stiff with blood, his body broken on the ground, right next to our red wheelbarrow, like in that one poem.
I fell in love with Leaf Bell the day he beat the shit out of DeeDee Ruffler.
She was the biggest bully in school and he was the first and only kid to take her down. I’m a bully too, so you might have thought I’d sympathize with her, but I didn’t.
DeeDee was a short, wrong-side-of-the-tracks nobody with a mile-high cruel streak. She had a strong, stupid body and a plain, round face and a mean, grating voice, and she’d tried to fight Leaf before, she’d called him all kinds of things—poor, ginger-haired, skinny, dirty, diseased—and he’d just laughed. But the day she called little seventh grader Fleet Park a slant-eyed boy-loving Chink, Fleet started crying, and Leaf snapped. He beat DeeDee into a coma, right there on the school’s cement steps, he pounded her head on the concrete, knees pinning her down by the chest, her boobs jiggling, his red hair flying around his lanky shoulders, the snow-capped mountains in the background.
My heart swelled three sizes that day.
DeeDee was never the same after Leaf smashed her head in. I’d read about lobotomies in my Modern Woman’s Science class, and that’s how she was now: detached, lethargic, useless.
Leaf didn’t get into trouble for that fight, he never got in trouble, just like me. Besides, everyone was sick of DeeDee, even the teachers, especially the teachers. She was as mean to them as she was to everyone else.
There was an evil in me too, a cruel streak. I don’t know where it came from and I didn’t really want it, no more than I’d want big feet or mousy brown hair or a piggish nose.
But fuck it. If I’d been born with a piggish nose, then I would own it, like I own the cruel and the mean.
Leaf was the first to recognize me for what I was. I was gorgeous, even as a kid. I looked like an angel, cherub lips and blushing cheeks and elegant bones and blond halo hair. Everyone loved me and I loved myself and I got my way and did what I wanted and I still left people feeling like they were lucky to know me.
No one thinks they’re shallow, ask every last person you know, they’ll deny it, but I’m living proof, I get away with murder because I’m pretty.
But Leaf saw right through the pretty, saw straight through it.
I was fourteen when Leaf Bell lobotomized DeeDee on the school steps, and I was fifteen when I followed Leaf home and tried to kiss him in the hayloft. He laughed in my face and told me I was ugly on the inside and left me sitting alone in the hay.
Every story needs a Villain.
The Villain is just as important as the Hero. More important, maybe. I’ve read a lot of books—some out loud to the Orphans, and some just to myself. And all the books had a Villain. The White Witch. The Wicked Witch. The Gentleman with The Thistledown Hair. Bill Sykes. Sauron. Mr. Hyde. Mrs. Danvers. Iago. Grendel.
I didn’t need Mim’s tea-reading to learn the Villain of my story. The Villain had blond hair and the Hero’s heart on her sleeve. She had teeth and claws and a silver tongue, like the smooth-talking devil in Ash and Grim.
I had an older brother. A half brother. His name was Alabama (to be explained later) and he lived with our mom in Lourmarin, France. My parents weren’t divorced. They just didn’t live together. My mom wrote historical mysteries, and two years ago, in the middle of a blizzard, she decided she would keep writing historical mysteries, but in France instead of here. My dad sighed, and shrugged, and off she went. And Alabama went with her. He’d always been her favorite anyway, probably because his father was my mother’s true love. Alabama’s dad was Muscogee and Choctaw. He ran back to Alabama—the state, not the brother—before my brother was even born. Then my dad came along, with his big heart and weakness for creatures in need. He married my pregnant mother, and the rest was history.
Until she gypsied herself and my brother off to a land of grapes and cheese last winter, that is.
So my dad sold the dull, spacious, three-bedroom, three-bathroom house I grew up in, and moved us into a five-bedroom, one-bath, crumbling, creaking old house in the country.
Five acres, apple orchard, sparkling, bubbling creek. Just in time for summer.
And I didn’t mind. Not a bit.
The house was two miles from town, two miles from Broken Bridge, with its Victorian houses and cobblestone streets and expensive gourmet restaurants and hordes of skiing, snow-bunny tourists in the winter.
And it was two blessed, beautiful miles away from Poppy.
No more soft taps on my window in the middle of the night from the girl three doors down. No more Poppy laughing as she crawled over my windowsill and into my bed. No more me not knowing whose cologne I smelled all over the front of her shirt.
I was done being a sucker. And this old house, nestled between apple trees and pine trees, in a shadowy, forgotten corner of the mountains . . . it was the first step to my freedom.
My freedom from Poppy.
I would have given it to Leaf the second he asked for it, except he never ever, ever did, so I gave it to Midnight instead.
Midnight and his big droopy eyes, his heart hanging out his chest, the sighs, the softness, the kisses. I hated him for it, really, really hated him for it, hated hated.
Hated, hated, hated, hated.
My parents still thought I was a virgin. They never discussed sex in front of me, they refused to acknowledge that I’d grown up because they wanted me to be their stupid little angel baby forever, and it made me rage rage rage inside, all the time, all the time. I wore the shortest skirts I could find, and the lowest-cut tops, oh, how they squirmed, their eyes scrambling to focus on some part of me that wasn’t sexual, so they could keep on thinking of me as they always had.
My parents still gave me dolls as presents, ones that looked like me, blond, with big eyes and puffy red lips. And whenever I saw another box sitting on the kitchen table, wrapped in pink paper with my name on it, I knew I would find myself over at Midnight’s window later that night, tap-tap-tapping, wanting to be let in so I could prove to myself how un-angelic I was.
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Leaf said that a lot. It was some quote from a tree-hugging hippie who lived a boring life in the woods a million years ago, and Leaf probably thought it would open my eyes and make me wise up and get in touch with my inner deeps, but all it did was make me want to tear off all my clothes and run through the town screaming.
If I was going to lead a life of desperation, then it would be loud, not quiet.
I watched the Hero as he moved boxes into the old Lucy Rish house. I stood by an apple tree, and I was there a long time before he saw me. I was good at not being seen when I didn’t want to be. I’d learned how to be quiet and invisible from reading Sneaks and Shadows.
I hadn’t shown Sneaks and Shadows to my brothers and sisters. I didn’t want them learning how to hide in broad daylight. Not yet.
I hoped the Hero would like it in his new house. Lucy hadn’t liked it. She’d been a mean, superstitious old woman who called us witches and clutched her rosary whenever she saw us. And she threw apples at the Orphans if they played too close to her lawn. Her husband had been nice, he was always smiling at us from across the road, but he died three years ago. Felix thinks Lucy poisoned him, but I don’t know. Old people die all the time without the help of poison.
I looked up, and there she was suddenly, standing at the bottom of the front steps, wearing a little green button-down shirt and a pair of baggy brown overalls with huge strawberry buttons on the straps. It was an outfit a kid would wear, not a seventeen-year-old girl. The overalls were dirty and too big for her little body.
Wink was one of the infamous Bell kids. They never seemed to end and who knew how many there really were in the first place.
But now I lived next to them and so maybe I would be able to find out. Maybe that would be my second goal of the summer, like this:
1. Get over Poppy. For good.
2. Count the Bell kids.
In elementary school, Wink Bell had been called Feral Bell behind her back because her hair was messy and her clothes were always kind of dirty. Feral was a big word for little kids, which, looking back, makes me think some bitter teacher gave her the nickname first. People still called her Feral sometimes, and she didn’t seem to notice really, let alone mind.
All the Bell kids had weird names, just like me and Alabama, and I’d always felt drawn to them for that, if nothing else.
I shifted the box of books I was carrying to my other arm, and stared at Wink. Her red hair curled into long, tight spirals that draped over her thin shoulders and she had freckles on her nose and cheeks and just about everywhere else. Her eyes were big and green and . . . innocent. No one’s eyes looked like that anymore. No one my age, at least. Our eyes grew up and stopped believing in magic and started caring about sex. But Feral’s . . . they still had a faraway, puzzled, lost-in-an-enchanted-forest gleam to them.
“You look like someone,” Wink said.
I put the box of books down on the porch and Wink must have taken that as an invitation, because she walked right up the steps and stood in front of me. Her head barely reached my shoulder.
“You look like someone,” she repeated.
People in school thought Wink was strange. Beyond strange. If a person was just a little weird, that person could be made fun of. Maybe they knew too many Star Wars quotes, or maybe they talked to themselves, or lived in a one-room mountain shack, or smelled like basement, or did magic tricks in school every chance they got because they wanted to be magicians. These people could be teased. Laughed at. Made to cry. But not Wink. The bullies had given up on Wink and her siblings years ago. The Bells were impossible to ridicule—they were never, ever embarrassed. Or scared. Eventually the bullies got bored and moved on to easier prey.
Wink had an older brother named Leaf. He graduated last year, but when he’d been in school everyone, everyone, had been afraid of him. Leaf had calm green eyes and dark red hair, as straight as Wink’s was curly. He was tall and lean and you’d never think he’d be able to beat the hell out of anyone. But he did. All the time. He had a temper on him that no one, not even the teachers, took for granted.
Everyone said the Bell kids were witches and weirdoes. And people left them alone. And they seemed to like it that way, for the most part.
So why was Wink standing on my porch right now and staring at me and looking like she wasn’t going anywhere?
Wink reached into a pocket in her overalls. It was so deep her whole arm disappeared inside. When she pulled her hand back out, it held a small book. She flipped through it, found what she was looking for, and handed it to me. It was old, and the pages were half falling out. Wink held it open at an illustration of a boy with a sword at his side. The boy was on a hill, facing a dark stone castle, grim-looking mountains in the background. He looked like he was waiting . . . waiting for something to come out and kill him.
“That’s Thief,” Wink said, pointing one of her short freckled fingers at the boy. “He fights and kills The Thing in the Deep with the sword his father left him.” She tapped her fingertip on the page. “See his brown curly hair? And his sad blue eyes? You look like him.”
I glanced at the illustration again, and then back at Wink. “Thanks,” I said, though I wasn’t sure it was a compliment.
She nodded, kind of gravely, and put the book back in her deep pocket. “Have you read The Thing in the Deep?”
I shook my head.
“I’ve read it to the Orphans many times. The Orphans is what I call all my sisters and brothers, because there are so many of them and because we don’t have a father anymore. We do have a mother, so they’re not real orphans, but she’s always busy reading people’s leaves and cards and we’re left to ourselves, mostly.”
“That’s why you’ll see a lot of strange cars in our driveway. A strange car means someone is here, and she’s reading their cards.”
Wink paused. Again. She was in no hurry.
“Mim read my leaves and she said you and I were going to have a story together. I was wondering if our story was going to be like The Thing in the Deep, because you look like Thief.”
Wink took a big breath, let it out, put her hands in her pockets, and stopped talking. A breeze floated by and lifted her thick hair off her shoulders. After her long speech, she now seemed content to just let us stand in silence.
I didn’t quite know how to talk to Wink yet. That would come later. But I already found her sort of relaxing. The seconds ticked by and I listened to the trickling of the creek down by the apple orchard and the rustling sounds of my dad unpacking inside. I felt my shoulders ease downward and my posture soften. Being with Wink was somehow like being alone, except not, you know, lonely.
And eventually I realized that the reason I felt so peaceful was because Wink wasn’t taking stock. She wasn’t trying to figure out if I was sexy, or cool, or funny, or popular. She just stood in front of me and let me keep on being whoever I really was. And no one had ever done that for me before, except maybe my parents, and Alabama.
“So what happens in the book?” I asked, after a few minutes of breezes and curly hair and overalls and not-judging and soft, peaceful quiet. “What happens to Thief?”
“There’s a monster in the shape of a beautiful woman. She kills people. Children, old people, everyone. She tries to kill the girl that Thief loves. He fights the monster, and he kills her, because he’s the hero. There is a great victory. And a descent into darkness. There are clues and riddles to solve, and trials of strength and wit. There’s redemption, and consequences, and ever after.”
I’ve read a lot of books too. More than I let anyone know, except my dad. I read a lot in the last year especially. My days had been shuffling from class to class, driving all my damn friends away with my mood swings, and my nonstop Poppy-this-and-Poppy-that-spewing, and my love, love, love, love, always my love for this blond-haired girl
who sometimes held my hand between classes and sometimes kissed me on the lips when people weren’t looking, but mostly, mostly ignored me, leaving me following behind, calling her name and her refusing to turn around.
But my nights, the ones where Poppy didn’t knock on my window, were spent with my books. I read a lot of science fiction and way more high dragon fantasy than is probably good for a person. I read the classics, like Dickens and Animal Farm and Where the Red Fern Grows. I even read some historical romance and some murder mysteries and horse and gun Westerns. I didn’t care. I read it all. Alabama was basketball and cross-country and leaning on things and jumping off things and all the girls liking him. But I was the reader brother who liked to swim in rivers and hike in the rain and sit under the stars but never, ever play organized sports. And I supposed I was all right with this.
Wink and I kept staring at each other. She was running this conversation, and I let her call the shots. She turned, and looked down at the books in the box I’d been carrying, so I got a chance to notice the soft-looking batch of freckles on her inner arms, and how small her nose was, like it belonged on a doll, and her short, stubby, faded-red eyelashes, and her pointed chin.
My dad walked by us at one point, tall, thick brown hair, wire-rimmed glasses, easy, soft stride. He liked to run, when he wasn’t reading or selling rare books to people in faraway places, and his running meant he moved like a cat. He reached in and got a lamp from the moving van, strode quietly back, smiled, and carried the lamp inside, letting us get on with our silence.
A girl’s voice shredded the breezy stillness. I jerked my head toward the sound.
She was standing at the edge of the woods, on the other side of the lane, at the edge of the Bells’ rambling farm.
I guess two miles wasn’t far enough after all.
Poppy passed by the red barn, the four Bell outbuildings, and their old farmhouse with its red slouchy roof and tall windows with black shutters. She crossed the road that was really just gravel and weeds, wove between our four bright green apple trees, walked up the wooden porch steps, and stood in front of Wink as if she weren’t there. She was wearing a white loose dress that still managed to hug her body in a way that whispered I paid too much for this. Poppy was the spoiled only child of two busy doctors, both of who raked in money from the snowboarding celebrities-with-a-death-wish that bombarded Broken Bridge every winter. Her house was one of the biggest around, including the endless second homes owned by film stars and aging musicians.
She ran her hand through her hair and smiled at me. “Do you know how long it took me to walk here? I can’t believe I bothered.”
I didn’t look at her. I watched Wink walk down the steps, turn, and go back to her farm across the road without another word, quiet as a nap in the sun.
“My parents won’t get me another car until I graduate.” Poppy squeezed her perfect lips into a pout, oblivious to Wink’s departure, as if she were a ghost. “Just because I took the new Lexus without asking and then totaled it by the bridge. Fuck. They should have expected that.”
I ignored her. I stared off at the Bell farmyard, distracted by a bit of green and brown and red that was climbing a ladder attached to the big barn that stood off to the right of the white ramshackle farmhouse.
Wink disappeared into the dark square of the hayloft opening.
I’d known Wink all my life, but really, for all practical purposes, I’d only just met her.
Poppy snapped her fingers in my face, and my eyes clicked back on her. She looked annoyed and beautiful, as usual, but I wasn’t really noticing for once. I was wondering what Wink was going to do up in that hayloft. I wondered if she was going to reread The Thing in the Deep to the Orphans.
I wondered what it was going to be like, living next to a girl like that instead of a girl like Poppy.
I suddenly wished, with my whole damn heart, that I’d always lived in this old house, across the road from Wink and the Orphans.
“Midnight, Midnight, Midnight . . .”
Poppy was saying my name over and over in the drippy sweet voice that had once set me on fire and now just made me feel cold.
I yanked myself out of the peaceful, surreal feeling that Wink had cast, and finally focused on the girl in front of me. “Go home, Poppy.”
Poppy blinked her tart gray eyes. Slowly. She played with the expensive pockets on her expensive dress, and smiled at me—her gentle, sad smile that, with very little effort, she could make seem sincere. “We’re not over, Midnight. We’re not over until I say we’re over.”
I couldn’t even look at her. The peaceful Wink feeling was gone now, entirely gone. All I felt was anger. And melancholy.
Poppy reached up and put her hand on my cheek. Her eyes hooked into my skin and pulled my face down, toward hers, like a fish on a line.
I fought her. But not nearly as hard as I wanted to.
Poppy was used to getting what she wanted. That was the thing about Poppy.
She won. She always won.