Blackout Illo

In the Heat of the Night: A sneak peek at Blackout, the summer's hottest YA release

Celebrated YA authors Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon team up for a blockbuster novel — here, an excerpt from Clayton's chapter.
By EW Staff
May 19, 2021 at 10:00 AM EDT

"Hurry up before we get caught." My best friend, Tristán, waves me forward into the Children's Center.

I run behind him as they start to manually close the outer doors and finish closing the library early due to the blackout. The metal screech echoes.

We tiptoe into the darkening room.

"Lana, just say you lost—I'm not trying to sleep here and definitely not missing Twig's party for our bet." Tristán thumps my arm. "I told him I'd emcee," he says in his signature podcast radio voice. "Can't let my boy down."

"It could be like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but like the library edition," I tease. "A slumber party."

"What?"

He doesn't remember how many sleepovers we used to have.

How he's been a snorer and sleep talker since kindergarten. "We read it in the fourth grade. Mr. Ahmed assigned it."

"I don't have the kind of memory you do."

I wave my latest scrapbook journal at him. "If you self-reflected more and actually documented things, maybe you would."

"Or if I'd been born with genius-level memory like you, elefantita."

He tries to touch the retro elephant-print scarf I have tied around my pin curls. Sweat soaks the edges of it and I fiddle with the bobby pins holding it in place. I can feel my bangs start to puff; the perfect victory roll headed for disaster. This retro look isn't going to make it until the party. Bad idea. July ruins outfits.

I smooth the front of my romper. But I need everything to go perfectly tonight. It has to.

I suck my teeth and pretend to hate how he's called me a tiny elephant our whole lives—all because of my legendary memory that teachers and librarians could never shut up about. It was always a new elephant something with every birthday or Christmas. My room is filled with them. Small reminders of him everywhere, making sure I could never forget. "Do they really have good memories?"

"What?"

"Elephants."

"That's what everyone says."

"Who is everyone?"

"You're acting funny."

I kick at him. "Your face looks funny."

"The ladies don't complain." He pushes my leg out of the way.

"Too scrawny! Don't even try it."

I sideswipe him as we investigate the room. He turns on his flashlight app. The glow of it makes his dark skin perfect. We are giants weaving through all the tiny chairs and tiny tables. The scent of the heat wave creeps inside, mingling with the library smells of paper and ink and dust and glue. Almost like everything is sweating, if that's possible. "I'm not done yet," I say, ducking down another aisle of books.

"Pay up. I win. Let's call it. We need to get to Brooklyn. Twig's waiting." He glares over the bookshelf at me, triumph tucking itself into the corner of his mouth. "You took too long."

"The party doesn't start until like ten anyways. We've got plenty time." I run my fingers over the tiny book spines. "You're trying to run down the clock. You're scared." I stare back at him even though he can't fully see me.

"The clock is done, yo. We went to three bookstores and now we're here about to get stuck in the library, and you still haven't picked anything." He chases behind me. "And you've been too quiet."[2]

"I guess you can't hear me talking to you right now." I round the corner and cut off his path, reaching up to shove his shoulder. He's so much bigger than me. Last summer he was looking directly into my face, his deep brown eyes always full of challenge, and now he's a whole foot taller.

"You know what I mean," he says.

"I don't . . . so enlighten me."

He circles me. "Something's up. Spit it out."

"You're paranoid." I turn away from him.

My phone lights up.

Another text from my other best friend, Grace. She's asking me if I've told him the thing. I can't. The words are all jumbled up inside me.

"Is this because you're leaving? Everything will be here when you get back."[3] He pulls a few more books off the shelves, sets his phone upright so the light beams down on them, and thumbs through the pages. "I'm supposed to help you and your dads move you into your fancy-ass Columbia dorms before I bounce to Binghamton. Relax! I can feel you tripping."

"I'm not," I lie. "Stop distracting me. You're a cheater."

"Fine, ask for a redo. I know you want to. I'm ready for all the whining. Blame the blackout, Lana."

"Shut up. You're already getting all butthurt. You're just scared I'll win."

"I usually do."

"Let you tell it," I spit back. "Stay lying."

"You ever get tired of trying to beat me?"

This is the game between us. Always a bet about who can do whatever thing the best.

At six, when his family moved into the brownstone next door he knocked on my door and said, "Bet I can ride my bike faster than you can."

Not hello or hi or even hola. Not We're your new neighbors or We just moved here from Miami. Nope. He just handed me the tres leches cake his mother made and challenged me.

At eleven, he almost drowned at the Kosciuszko Pool after saying he could hold his breath the longest.

At fourteen, he could watch the scariest horror movies ever made back-to-back but would lie about having to sleep with the lights on.

And today, at eighteen, it's this: What's the best book ever written?

But whenever he loses, he twists the whole thing to make himself the winner. That's really his favorite part. There's always a story that lingers long after the bet.

Tristán lives for the shit-talk.

I clutch my scrapbook journal tight to my chest. The pages threatening to expose themselves, the fragile rubber band barely holding it all together.

"Stop trying to cheat." I hold my phone up, the light beam washing over thousands of tiny spines, as I move to the back of the room. I try to focus. I try not to let him get into my head. I try not to get distracted by everything I promised myself I'd tell him today.

"We gotta get back to Brooklyn. Twig's been sending me mad texts." He flashes his phone screen at me. There is a flurry of notifications, some from Twig and some from different girls sending heart and smiley face emojis. "He keeps saying I'm not there for him anymore."

Tristán's dad moved him and his sister to the Bronx at the beginning of the summer. After Mami died last year, they couldn't keep up with the bodegas and needed to be closer to his aunties and grandma so they could help with little Paloma. Now, we meet here. Halfway between Bed-Stuy and Mott Haven. But everyone in the old neighborhood misses him. He's the type that leaves behind a gaping hole.

"You still have my mic at your house?" he asks.

"Yes, for the hundredth time." His podcast equipment is still tucked under my bed where he left it. "But a bet's a bet."

He flashes his phone light over the murals ringing the room, colorful images of New York City brought to life with bright wallpaper.

"You really going to pick a kiddie book?" He pulls back his locs into a ponytail. "That's your idea of the best book ever written?"

"Children's books are the reason you even like to read." I scan the shelves for Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe, or maybe I'll grab Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield or The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton. I was made for this challenge.

Papa is a famous author, his books on politics and race relations sit in every bookstore window, and Dad is a therapist who uses books to unlock people's struggles. Plus, Gran used to read to me on summer nights like this one. We'd curl up in the nook of my bedroom window with my younger brother, Langston, and in between the page turns, she'd complain about the city noises and how much she missed her little library in Haiti from when she was a child.

My last name shouldn't be Beauvais. It should probably be Livre or Mots or something that translates to books or words or story.

He won't beat me.

[2] The truth: I have something to tell you. And I don't know how, so I've been lying. When Dad does his whole therapy talk, he says people lie for three reasons: (1) Because they fear the negative consequences of telling the truth, (2) Because they want other people to believe something about them that isn't true, and (3) Because they want to avoid hurting someone's feelings. But what happens when those feelings are yours?

[3] The truth: But will you? Or will you find another girl who fills the space I leave behind? Your memory is so bad. Not episodic like mine. Will you remember everything the way I do? Will you replay it like I do? What happens when we both leave?

From the book Blackout, by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon, published by Quill Tree Books. Copyright © 2021 by Dhonielle Clayton. Used with permission of Quill Tree Books, an imprint of HarperCollins publishers.