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By Seija Rankin
March 16, 2021 at 12:00 PM EDT
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Jessica Goodman is having a very good book year: She released her debut novel, They Wish They Were Us, last summer, and it's currently in the works as an HBO Max adaptation starring Halsey and Euphoria's Sydney Sweeney. Now, she's gearing up to release her sophomore work. They'll Never Catch Us, another fast-paced YA thriller, will hit shelves on July 27.

They'll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman
Credit: Penguin

The book follows two sisters competing for a spot on their cross-country team: Stella and Ellie Steckler are one year apart with polar-opposite personalities, but they share a talent for running and a fascination with the new girl at school. Mila Keene, a top runner, disappears during a training run — and suddenly there's a lot of scrutiny on the Steckler sisters. The book unfolds as Stella and Ellie attempt to navigate the mystery surrounding Mila's whereabouts and their own futures; EW is also revealing the very first look inside the thriller.

Jessica Goodman
Jessica Goodman's second novel is "They'll Never Catch Us."
| Credit: Allie Holloway

"They'll Never Catch Us explores the intense, hyper-competitive relationship between sisters and how far some sisters will go to test that unbreakable bond," Goodman tells EW in a statement. "In this excerpt, we meet Stella, who's 14 months older than Ellie, and has spent the summer away from her family trying to overcome a violent episode from her past. As she prepares for the most important cross country season of her life, she knows everything is on the line — including her future."

**

STELLA

I hate the way my sister Ellie breathes. She doesn't huff or puff or pant or wheeze. No, Ellie's breath is steady and sure and it never changes. Not when she accelerates around a particularly angled turn. Not even when she sprints the final hundred yards. Her breath is as consistent as the time.

I also hate the way Ellie's ponytail never falls out of place. And that she can run in silence without wanting to crush her own brain with her hands. How can my little sister have so many thoughts she actually wants to think?                                                                 

Me, on the other hand. I just want to shut everything out. That's why I run. To get away. To be free. I just want to pump my legs faster than anyone else's. To feel the burn deep within my lungs and all throughout my thighs. To win. It doesn't matter where I'm going or which course I'm on or anything. What matters is that my brain stops. Completely. And I can only get there if everything's aligned, if I ascend planes, beat records, and speed, speed, speed. 

Only when I'm running can I forget about the little things — how my dark hair is so unruly it can only be tamed by a thick medical-grade elastic, or that time in the ninth grade Julia Heller found out I didn't have my period and awarded me the nickname Sterile. I can forget that my parents are constantly worried about money and the too-big house. I can forget that Mom is a recovering alcoholic, who is always a few sips away from overthrowing the delicate balance we've found—and that Dad is constantly forcing us to avoid things that might set her off. I can forget why I'm here, how guilt and horror fizzled in my brain when I first heard the sound of bone unlatching. I can even forget the worst thing of all: that Ellie is just as fast as I am — sometimes even faster.

S---. I'm doing it again. This happens every time I get hooked on this train of thought. I start listing all the things I hate about my sister, and then somewhere along the way the gears in my brain take a sharp turn and I'm reminding myself of everything that's wrong with me. The spiral continues until I remember something Mom once said: Everyone hates themselves a little. If you get over that, you survive. Sure, she said it when she was drunk and I was five. But I think it holds up.

I repeat that mantra over and over as I push toward the final eight hundred yards around the track. The sun beats down on my head and I wonder if my scalp can get sunburnt through my mess of curls. Ellie's fine, silky hair wouldn't protect her against this.          

"Last one, Steckler! You got this!" Coach Reynolds calls from the sidelines. Her voice is faint, but I can still hear it. I love being called Steckler. It never happens back in Edgewater because there are always two of us. 

I lean my body into the inner circle of the track as I glide around the last turn. The finish line beckons. My muscles ache. Makes sense, though. I have been running nearly a hundred miles a week. That was what was promised at Breakbridge Elite Track and Field Center. Well, that and anger management courses. But still, I've never slept better. Here, my muscles ache and thrum as I pour myself into bed every night. I don't stay awake reciting my stats or obsessing over the scholarship I lost or listening for gasps in the stands as bodies collide. I just . . . sleep. Is this how I'm supposed to feel? Well rested and happy? 

With only a hundred yards to go, I can feel every single lap and every single sprint that have turned my muscles into steel. I've gotten better since June. In the past eight weeks I've seen my times go down like crazy. Sure, I also learned some breathing exercises to help clear my mind and ways to keep me from spiraling with frustration. There's no way Ellie will be able to keep up on the cross country course. A slow smirk crawls across my face as I imagine the fury in my sister's icy blue eyes when I beat her. 

This last race isn't really a race at all. I'm just killing time before my parents come to get me. This is my final reminder of everything I've accomplished this summer. My first without Ellie. My first away from Edgewater. I have never felt freer than I do here. Not while running in the woods, or around the lake back home, up by the Ellacoya Mountain Resort. I'm finally, desperately, alone. And I love it. 

Here we go. My eyes narrow as the last few yards sneak up on me. I cross them with ease and without ever breaking my pace. I want to keep running. I would, too. If I didn't know Mom and Dad were waiting out front, eager to get home to Ellie, the landscapers, and the home office where they sell real estate to gullible yuppies looking for a second home north of Manhattan, at the foot of the idyllic Catskill mountain range. Or at least where they try to. 

They used to have such a hard time closing deals, back when the cold cases were still fresh and the media called our little town Deadwater. In the span of a year, three female cross country stars went missing. Each one was found on the thorny trail up by Oak Tower. All killed in the same way: blunt force trauma, with no signs of sexual assault. They all fought like hell, and our totally incompetent police department never figured out who did it.                                                              

But that's in the past now. It's been a decade since anyone went missing. Well, that's if you don't count Shira Tannenbaum, and no one does. Now Edgewater's a place where tourists come to pick our apples, buy our ceramics, and kayak on our lake. Deadwater's just a myth. Something we all lived through but try to forget.

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