Fans of Tim Burton and Wes Anderson will love this new fantasy novel by #1 New York Times bestselling author Alyson Noël in which a ragtag team of eleven-year olds with otherworldly abilities set out to solve the mystery behind the sudden onset of ordinary events plaguing their very unusual town.
Compared to other more ordinary towns, Quiver Hollows is a very strange, very curious place. It is also home to longtime friends Grimsly, Ollie, Ming, and Penelope. In a town where everyone is spectacularly abnormal, Grimsly feels bad about being terribly, unforgivably normal, as the town's pet funeral director. So when a series of strange and disturbing mundane occurrences begins plaguing Quiver Hollows, well, Grimsly fears his growing celebrity just might be to blame since everyone knows that the things you focus on the most have an uncanny way of shaping your world.
The group of friends also learn that the bones in the pet cemetery are thought to be the source of the strange magic that binds the town of Quiver Hollows. With the bones now gone, the town's magic is quickly dissipating. Will it ultimately become as common and ordinary as everywhere else?
An Excerpt fromThe Bone Thief
Professor Snelling’s School for Spoon Bending
Professor Snelling swipes a spoon from the top of my pile, pinches the base between his forefinger and thumb, and using only the powers of his mind, bends it first into a circle, then a heart, before finishing with a five-pointed star.
“See, Grimsly--see how easy and uncomplicated it is? And it all begins and ends here.” He taps a long, twisted talon to his temple and nods encouragingly, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think he was bragging. But the truth is, I’ve seen him make much more complicated shapes in a lot less time. As far as spoon benders go, Professor Snelling is considered the best in Quiver Hollows--almost as good as our town’s founder, Yegor Quiver, which is really saying something.
With the tips of his curlicue mustache twitching and the flesh around his eyes crinkling like origami, Snelling looks at me and says, “Now let’s see you try. But first--what’s the secret of spoon-bending success?”
I clear my throat, straighten my shoulders, and in a clear, strong voice recite the words on the silver-framed sign hanging on the opposite wall.
IN ORDER to achieve it, you first have to see it and believe it.
Imagination is key!
Just to be clear, it’s not like I needed to read straight from the sign. The words are part of our daily drills. They’re practically tattooed on my brain.
Still, on an important day like today--the day of the sixth-grade final spoon-bending exam--my confidence is running so low I can’t afford to take any risks.
Despite the countless hours of careful instruction--despite all of my classmates’ having grasped the art from the very first day only to spend the rest of the semester improving their skills--I’m still no closer to performing the sort of mental magic required of spoon bending than I was on the very first day in this class. And as much as I’m hoping that today is the day when all those lessons will begin to make sense and I’ll find myself twisting this heaping pile of spoons into unrecognizable silver bits, fact is I’ll be lucky if I can manage just enough of a crook in one handle to walk out of this room with some slim shred of dignity intact.
Everyone in Quiver Hollows has a thing--at least one major peculiarity (and sometimes as many as two or three) that makes them really different, extremely odd, and unique.
Everyone except me, that is. The only odd thing about me is I’m as normal, average, and boring as a person can be.
Snelling grins in a way that sets his face into a riot of wrinkles that obscures everything but his nose, which remains splendidly long, triumphantly hooklike, and completely unaffected by the rest of his features. He plucks another spoon from the top of the pile and presents it with great flourish, and when he places it before me, I instantly break into a cold, clammy sweat. There’s no more delaying. The moment has come.
“Grimsly,” he says, his voice assuming a more serious, professorial tone. “You can do this, you’ll see. Just remember what I taught you--all that’s required is a dash of mind magic and the belief that you can.”
I settle near the edge of my seat and frown. It’s not that I doubt what he says, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that what’s true for Professor Snelling is not necessarily true for me.
I glance around the room. My focus moves from the oversized gilt-framed portrait of Yegor Quiver, his wise, all-seeing gaze aiming to inspire us from beyond the grave, to the large glass-fronted display case crammed with all manner of intricately contorted metal sculptures crafted by Professor Snelling’s former students, to the glistening mobiles hanging overhead fashioned entirely of twisted gold and silver cutlery before turning hesitantly toward the single unyielding spoon lying before me.
“You know the rules,” he says. “Exactly one minute for the lot.”
Then, just when I’m sure he’s decided to cut me some slack by giving me one less spoon to worry about, he plucks the star from the table and with a blink returns it to its original shape and places it on top of the heap.
Great. Sixty spoons in sixty seconds. Only a miracle can save me now.
I take a deep breath and focus on the words of inspiration scrawled across the chalkboard:
focus! concentrate! imagine! believe!
that’s all there is to it--you’ll see!
It sounds reasonable enough in theory, but after watching Snelling plow through his own pile of spoons before he was forced to delve into mine, molding them easily, as though they were made of rubber, it’s time to face the unavoidable truth: I’m about to become the very first person in Quiver Hollows to ever fail the spoon-bending exam. Exactly the sort of distinction I’d prefer not to claim.
With a simple nod, Professor Snelling makes a quick jab at the pocket watch he pulls from his robe and the wall of clocks reset to zero. The countdown is on.
The second hand begins its descent, sending time marching forward with an audible tick-tick-tick as I close my eyes and go through the steps. First I picture a circle looming large in my head, and since my expectations are already low, it’s not even a perfect circle. Its sides are uneven, with one popped out, the other pushed in--the sort of thing even the most challenged student should be able to replicate. Then I follow the short list of steps that for the last several months have been drilled into my brain.
And believe in that lopsided circle with all my heart.
And then . . .
Something extraordinary happens.
Something that seems almost too good to be true.
The spoon begins to curve in a place where it once used to be straight!
Since my eyes are closed in deep concentration, it’s not like I can actually see it, but somehow I just know that stubborn slab of metal is finally, magically, yielding to my forces of will. And while it’s only one spoon, I no longer doubt that the others will follow.
When the sixty seconds are up, the collection of clocks gets to buzzing so loudly the whole room seems to vibrate. I snap my eyes open and plant a wide grin on my face in anticipation of the celebration to come.
Until I catch Professor Snelling’s look of despair. He stares unbelievingly at the single unremarkable spoon lying stupidly before me. My grin fades as I realize that whatever images I saw in my head, whatever sensations I felt in my heart, none of them managed to find their way out. The spoon is exactly the same as it started, and no amount of effort on my part will ever convince it to become anything else.
Snelling’s shoulders slump in defeat, his beard falls limp, even his curlicue mustache seems to tilt the wrong way. Its cobalt-blue tips are now pointing due south. “I don’t understand.” The words tumble forth in a tone so bereaved I suddenly realize just how much he had riding on this. In his mind, we share this failure equally.
He sucks his lips inward until all that’s left of the bottom half of his face is a wilting mustache and a long-bearded chin.
I tug nervously at the stiff white cuffs of my shirtsleeves and loosen the plain black tie looped high at my neck. I’m unable to recall one moment in all my life when I felt worse than this.
“Sir,” I begin, determined to turn this around and try to convince him he’s still a great teacher, he bears none of the blame.
But before I can finish, his lips pop back into place, and he says, “Grimsly--”
My fingers nervously pluck at the black buttons lining the front of my suit. And while I’m braced for just about anything, mostly I’m hoping he won’t mention something about trying again. It’s important to know when to quit. Sometimes surrender is the only solution.
“Never forget you have your own unique gifts. Your own duty and purpose.” His voice thunders with conviction; his gaze locks on mine. “Some of which you’ve yet to discover. And as one of Quiver Hollows’s most revered and respected citizens, there’s absolutely no reason for you to feel bad about . . .” He waves a dismissive hand toward the shameful heap of unbent spoons, as though it doesn’t matter in the least. While it’s nice of him to try to make me feel better, I think we both know the scope of my failure is colossal at best.
A heavy silence descends. I’m desperate to break it, but I can’t think of a single word to say that would make this moment any less disappointing for either of us.
Then, just when I’m least expecting it, he breaches the professor-student agreement we stick to whenever I’m in class. For a brief moment he’s back to being my trusted guardian who’s looked after me since I was an infant.
“Now go.” He clutches my shoulder with a heavily bejeweled hand in a way that’s meant to be comforting. But considering how I just failed him, his continued kindness only makes me feel worse. “And be quick. You don’t want to be late to your own funeral, now, do you?” His eyes twinkle when he says it, and while the joke usually makes me laugh, at the moment I can’t even fake it.
Being Quiver Hollows’s first, foremost, and only pet funeral director is the one weird thing about me. I used to enjoy all the perks that came with it, namely the way everyone makes such a big deal about me. But the truth is, it’s not even that weird. All I do is wear a black suit and come up with the right words to memorialize whatever hamster, goldfish, and/or turtle has recently passed. There are no tails, scales, or supernatural abilities required. It’s a made-up weird as opposed to a genuine weird, so it’s not like it counts.
“Will you let the next student in? I’ve got a few more exams still ahead.” My guardian’s voice pulls me out of my thoughts and back to the present.
He turns away, sending his long blue braid sailing over his shoulder, landing just shy of the bright green sash he wears at his waist. Then he busies himself with straightening his own pile of spoons (no need to straighten mine) as I grasp my bag by the strap and open the door for the next kid in line.
“Hey, Grimsly!” My classmate greets me with the kind of enthusiasm I no longer deserve. “How’d it go? Did you bend all the spoons?” His dark hair is styled the same way as mine, and he’s wearing a black suit, white shirt, and black tie with a messenger bag strapped across his chest--same outfit I’m wearing. And believe me, it’s not a school uniform, it’s just the way I dress. Lately I’ve noticed a few other kids have taken to copying the look. The kid’s face breaks into a grin that sends his whiskers twitching and displays two massive front teeth that protrude way past his lips.
Clearly he looks up to me, so I try to act cool, pretend the outcome wasn’t nearly as tragic as I know it to be. But I’ve never been much good at lying. So it comes as no surprise when I glimpse my reflection in the glass-paneled door and catch myself grimacing. With the absence of any sort of physical oddity, my mop of straight brown hair, somber blue eyes, and full set of unremarkable teeth that fit well within the confines of my mouth pretty much makes me the most boring person around. This kid must be crazy to want to imitate me.
“Can’t believe I’m up after you,” Rabbit Teeth continues, stubbornly clinging to a widely held belief that never was true.
I’m not special.
Not remarkable in any conceivable way.
And as hard as it is to admit, there’s no more denying I don’t belong in this place.
I heave a deep sigh, take one last look at those wiggling whiskers and shiny white rabbit teeth of his, and push through the door. Squinting into the perpetual haze of fog, clouds, and mist that blankets our town, I wonder, once again, why some people are born so splendidly unique while I’m stuck being boring old me.
Sweetcraft’s Candy Cave
I’m the pet funeral director, I remind myself, figuring I could use a good pep talk to make me feel better. I’m well-known, well-liked. Heck, there are loads of kids who idolize me, dress like me, want to be me . . . though I can’t figure out why.
Maybe it’s because Snelling is my guardian, and Snelling is pretty much the most important person in town.
Or maybe it’s because of my job and the fact that I’ve started something that no one ever thought of before.
It could even be because I have a graveyard named after me.
But it’s probably mostly due to the fact that, in a town where everyone has some sort of magical or supernatural ability, my complete ordinariness makes me stand out in a really big way.
For the most part, I’m used to it. And while I appreciate how everyone always makes an effort to be encouraging and friendly and make me feel like an important part of the community, what I’d really love more than anything is to go so unnoticed that I completely blend in.
I guess I’ve just always been different. Which is weird, since I was born and raised here like everyone else. I eat the same food and drink the same water, so I can’t help but wonder how it came to be that of all the magic on offer, it somehow managed to bypass me.
To be clear, not everyone around here has rabbit teeth and whiskers or bodies covered in shimmering scales. Two of my closest friends, Ollie and Ming, look more or less normal. But because Ollie could bend spoons practically since birth, and Ming’s been levitating well before she could walk, they’re hardly what you’d call ordinary. I’m the only one who can claim that distinction.
All around me the town square pulses with activity. Major preparations are under way for tonight’s annual last-day-of-school celebrations, and everyone chatters excitedly about today’s final exams.
As usual, I aced all my academic finals last week. But in a town like this, it’s the mystical arts that matter most. Between the fourth-grade tightrope-walking challenge (which I barely passed) and the fifth-grade mind-reading test (which I didn’t pass), every year of school has been leading up to Snelling’s sixth-grade spoon-bending exam. Those who pass go on to the Manifesters Academy. Those who don’t . . . well, no one’s ever failed until now.