For Ages
12 to 99

The Jade Notebook is a part of the Notebook Series collection.

Down-to-earth Zeeta and her flighty mom, Layla, have spent years traveling the globe and soaking up everything each new culture has to offer. Now they've settled in the beachside town of Mazunte, Mexico, where Zeeta's true love, Wendell, has an internship photographing rare sea turtles. At first glance, Zeeta feels sure that Mazunte is paradise—she envisions dips in jade waters, sunsets over sea cliffs, moonlit walks in the surf. And she is determined to make Mazunte her home . . . for good. But as she and Wendell dig deeper to unearth her elusive father's past, Zeeta finds that paradise has its dark side.

An Excerpt fromThe Jade Notebook

Chapter One

At sunset, Comet Point feels like the tip of the world. Far below, the water churns, slapping against the crags, spraying my skin. I gaze past the jagged rocks, where the sea smooths into silk and spreads out to touch the sky. And there on the horizon, the sun dips lower and lower, setting the clouds on fire.

Here at the cliff’s edge, the tiniest details are magnified: every fine hair on my arms moving in the breeze, every pebble pressing into my palms, every speck of dirt clinging to the backs of my thighs. A tiny pink boat, upside down on a patch of sand. The silhouette of a fisherman, his line catching light.

After the sun slides through the last puddle of flames and disappears into the sea, I stand up, brushing the dust from my dress. My eyes stay fixed on the fading line where sky meets water as I walk toward the mainland, weaving around hardy shrubs and a huge saguaro cactus. Soon sky and sea are the same shade of twilight blue with a hint of silver, indistinguishable.

Once I reach the steep part of the path, I scramble up the rocks, looking for safe footing. Comet Point, not surprisingly, is shaped like a comet, the head being the tip of the peninsula. I make my way up the comet’s fiery tail, which ends in jungle high above the beach.

When we decided to move to Mexico, I had no idea that this little beach town would feel like a shoe that fits as if it were made just for me. Mazunte is the home I’d given up on ever finding. Why does this place, of the dozens of breathtaking places I’ve lived, feel so exquisitely perfect? I can’t pinpoint a reason--not a logical one, anyway. Maybe, somehow, the silvery strands of the comet pulled me toward Mazunte from far across the ocean.

When I reach the top of the sandy path, I leave the sea behind, following a narrow trail that slices through dense foliage. The moon is just rising, its light barely filtering through the leaves, just enough for me to make my way back toward the cabanas. Knowing the route by heart, I fly through the insect songs and tree shadows.

Instinctively, I slow down as I pass the first in a ring of signs around a section of jungle about a kilometer in circumference. These signs give me the creeps. The first, I can barely make out in the moonlight, but I know what it says: ¡TERRITORIO PROHIBIDO! SE DEVORAN LOS INTRUSOS! Forbidden territory! Trespassers will be devoured! More hand-painted signs around the perimeter of the property offer variations on the theme: Trespassers will be cursed/taken prisoner/eliminated. Disconcerting, but I like to think that whoever made the signs just has a somewhat twisted sense of humor.

As I walk, I peer beyond the signs, curious. It’s our mysterious neighbors’ property, but it looks just like the rest of the area--enormous leaves, vines, branches, occasional flowers. I haven’t yet dared to cross the line, and I’m not quite brave enough to do it alone at dusk. What I do instead is shout past the sign, loud, in English, on some kind of impulse: “Fine! Devour me!”

As soon as the words come out, even though there’s no one to hear, a little wave of embarrassment washes over me.

And then, a noise shatters the night. A deep, vibrating noise that seems to tear through the forest, rumble the earth. It comes from what feels like just meters away. It’s so loud it makes me jump, sends my heart racing.

I freeze. What was that? A motorcycle engine? A chain saw? Motionless, I hold my breath and listen. The only sounds are my pounding pulse, the insects, the distant waves, a breeze through the leaves. All I see are shadows in hues of green and blue and purple. I breathe out and take a tentative step down the path.

Then it thunders again, filling my ears, resounding through my body. The noise wakes some primal fear in me. I barely resist the urge to run away at top speed.

I reassure myself under my breath. “Don’t be crazy, Zeeta. It’s just a noise.”

Silence again; only the familiar hum of the jungle at dusk. My muscles relax a little. The TRESPASSERS WILL BE DEVOURED sign must have put me on edge. I bet the noise was just a car engine that my imagination transformed into something monstrous. Again, I exhale, try to steady my legs and slow my racing pulse. Then I suck in a deep breath and take a step forward on the path toward home.

This time, when the sound rips through the darkness, I run. I tear through the trees, the branches scraping my skin, catching on my clothes. After a few minutes, my lungs are burning and there’s a stitch in my side. I stop and lean over, gasping, my hands on my knees. Then, tentatively, I peer into the shadows behind me. Nothing. My ears alert, I half walk, half jog toward the cabanas.

I settle on an explanation. It was something rational--like thunder in the distance, or a particularly loud wave crashing. The cliffs can produce unusual echo effects. The farther I get from the Forbidden Territory, the easier it is to shake off the creepiness, even tip my hat to whoever posted those signs. After all, they’re effective.

A few minutes later, as I round the bend to the cabanas, my heartbeat has calmed, my trembling subsided. Emerging from the jungle, I enter the yellow glow of the kitchen hut. There in the candlelight, beneath the woven grass roof, Layla and Wendell are eating fresh fish and laughing with the guests.

I hover at the trees’ edge and savor this moment, watching my mom and my boyfriend--the people I love most in the world in this place I already love most in the world. Which is saying a lot for someone who’s lived in seventeen places in her seventeen years on earth.

Here, safely outside the jungle, wrapped in the aura of my perfect new home, it’s easy to let go of the strange noise, hope I don’t hear it again. Why bother even mentioning it? Why make waves in an otherwise smooth sea? Even paradise has to have a few flaws, right? It’s part of the package. Like the stinging jellyfish off Phi Phi Island when Layla and I lived in Thailand. Or the pickpockets in Marrakech. Or the deadly single-lane mountain roads in Nepal.

Wendell catches my eye, his face lighting up with his cute half-smile. He comes to me, folds me in his arms, wraps me in his cinnamon-soap smell. I press my lips against the comforting pulse of his neck, nestle my head on his shoulder. Yes, this is it. Paradise.