Holler of the Fireflies
A boy from the hood in Brooklyn travels to a STEM camp in an Appalachian holler for one epic, life-changing summer in this brilliant novel from the award-winning author of The Stars Beneath Our Feet.
Javari knew that West Virginia would be different from his home in Bushwick, Brooklyn. But his first day at STEM Camp in a little Appalachian town is still a shock. Though run-ins with the police are just the same here. Not good.
Javari will learn a lot about science, tech, engineering, and math at camp. And also about rich people, racism, and hidden agendas. But it’s Cricket, a local boy, budding activist, and occasional thief, who will show him a different side of the holler—and blow his mind wide open.
Javari is about to have that summer. Where everything gets messy and complicated and confusing . . . and you wouldn’t want it any other way.
J + C + summer = ∞
An Excerpt fromHoller of the Fireflies
Moms had warned me I’d get deep in trouble one day. I shoulda believed her. Today was that day.
I hadn’t really wanted to ditch my family and ride to West Virginia. At least not until after William Dexter got stretched out on our concrete block in Brooklyn. After that happened, everything changed.
Now the bald dude with the scar kept glancing back at me from the front row of my bus. The expression on his face said he wanted to carve me up like a turkey on Thanksgiving.
I got tense and reached for my right eyelid. I always did that when I got anxious. Rubbing it, I sank down in my seat and stared out my bus window to avoid Bald Dude’s insane googly gaze.
Outside on the highway, I read a sign: welcome to west virginia: wild and wonderful.
Some comedian had spray-painted over it: DON’T DRINK THE WATER!
They had so many trees down here. I couldn’t see not one tall apartment building nowhere. Out the window, there were only green hills and sleepy trees.
For the gazillionth time since I climbed on a different bus this morning at Port Authority, I wished I hadn’t left home. I missed Brooklyn already. I missed Daddy and Poppa. And even though that noisy argument me and my moms had had made me eager to leave, I actually missed her and Shireen too.
After a while, the big gray bus slowed down and rolled into a parking lot in front of an old gas station that was locked-up dark. The folding door at the front of the bus squeaked open.
“Horsewhip Hollow!” the driver yelled back.
I had arrived, finally. I stood up to exit and, of course, crazy Bald Dude with the scar stepped off right in front of me. This man, made a muscle and fat, musta been at least two feet taller than me. I was twelve years old, but short for my age, like my daddy.
Bald Dude’s skin was pale and red in spots, not smooth and cocoa brown like mine. His looked like it’d been sunburnt too many times.
The only hair he had was some brown stuff on his chin. I think it mighta been called a goatee. I was probably wrong about the name.
I did know he was built like a pro wrestler.
“Here you go, sonny.”
The driver handed me my blue suitcase and red duffel bag out on the hot parking lot. He smiled at me and then glared at crazy Bald Dude.
“I don’t feel right leaving him here with you,” the driver told him.
“Gimme my bag, old man,” angry Bald Dude grunted. He glared at me, sideways.
“Get it yourself, boy,” the driver told him.
Bald Dude sighed and reached into the luggage area on the side of the bus to snatch out an old camo duffel and a big ice cooler. I watched him check inside the cooler. Packed in the ice there were dozens of bags of Brooklyn Starr Franks. The Beast shut the lid and grunted at the bus driver like he’d expected to find some of them missing.
I glanced around the lot. Just one parked car. And that car looked empty.
In a minute, this bus was about to leave me alone here, a million miles from home, with a lunatic white man who for sure wanted to delete me.
My phone had zero bars.
I swallowed real hard.
“Dalton Spratt,” the driver said to Bald Dude, pointing at him. “The operator before told me all about the commotion this morning. I’m leaving you two boys here alone. If I should hear about any more hijinks involving this young’un and you, you will wish your daddy never met your mama. Understand?”
Bald Dude Dalton frowned at him, spat onto the cracked gray parking lot and strolled over to the grass to sit down on a curb in the shade.
“Mr. Spratt!” the driver shouted at him. “I don’t chew my cabbage twice, yuh hear? So, listen up: If any harm befalls this here boy, the local authorities will find you and you’ll be in a world a hurt!”
Dalton just grunted again.
That did not make me feel no better.
I wiped my forehead. The sun was beaming down here in West Virginia. Soooo hot. I missed the bus’s AC already, as weak as it had been.
The bus driver saluted me and took off.
Now it was just me and Dalton.
I glanced around the lot again, frowned at the empty car sitting across the way and decided to plop down under another shade tree, far away from Dalton.
There didn’t seem to be nothing or nobody around. I didn’t understand. I drained my water bottle and stared into the distance, at all of those mountains.
I felt like I had landed on an alien world.
Maybe I had.
Some fly buzzed. Their tiny wings beat and make that noise.
Black and green, it settled on my hand. I watched this bug and thought of Poppa George. He compared people to flies: irritating and distracting.
“Boy,” Dalton called out, “don’t you know the Lord hates a snitch?”
Now here he went buzzing.
I glanced over. Dalton stared toward the mountains. Then he jerked his head at me.
“Cockeyed little pig,” he called out.
My eye stared crossways, but I wasn’t that fat.
“You gonna make me use my fists,” he said.
Dalton spat again, and stood, stretching on the way up. I clenched onto my luggage harder and glanced around again. No place to run. Only this dusty parking lot and an empty highway and train tracks.
I covered my bad eye with my hand and scrunched my face. I heard Dalton crack his back.
I was gonna die here.
Dalton delivered a nasty grin and stomped toward me.
I never shoulda left Brooklyn. Back home was still safer than out here in West Virginia.
Just yesterday, I had been safe back home in Bushwick.
New York City.
Well, kinda safe.
Me, my father, my mother and my little sis had got caught up in a street fight. It was nuts. In the twelve years I been alive, I had never seen nothing like that.
It all went down on Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick, right in front of the police station there. An army of us had shown up to protest that the police had shot an unarmed Black man on my family’s block.
He lived in the Bushwick Houses projects, a few streets over. His name: William Dexter. And the police had killed him for resisting arrest.
The week before that, the cops had busted down the door of some old Spanish lady in Hope Gardens and gave her a heart attack, she had been so agitated. The NYPD had accidentally thought her home belonged to a crook. The police broke into the wrong apartment on the wrong floor and almost scared her to death.
The old lady was laid up in the hospital now, and folks in the hood were hot because of her and how they did William Dexter.
The angriest had to have been my moms. She got me and the rest of my family out there two nights ago, protesting police brutality.
That demonstration had started off quiet enough.
We all held candles in front of the police station.
After that, some local minister spoke and preached and then let some of Dexter’s family speak. They tried to get Dexter’s widow to say words, but she couldn’t.
She didn’t cry at all; just stood there, like a zombie.
I felt so sorry for her.
And then, somebody started screaming on these cops who had tried to enter the police station through some barricades. One of the protesters—this dude named Cappy— shoved one of the cops and took him down on the sidewalk, jujitsu-style.
All these other cops piled onto them two, trying to drag Cappy off of the first cop. Two more protesters jumped into the jumble, tangling with the police. Our neighbor Antonio was in the mix. One of the cops nearby drew her gun and that was when most of the crowd bolted.
Like, a wave of black and brown and white bodies crashed into me. They forced my sister Shireen into my chest. I felt my mother’s long fingernails dig into my arm and heard my father curse.