Bloom is a part of the The Overthrow collection.
"The perfect book right now for young readers searching for hope, strength, inspiration — and just a little horticultural havoc."—New York Times
The first book in a can't-put-it-down, can't-read-it-fast-enough action-thriller trilogy that's part Hatchet, part Alien!
The invasion begins--but not as you'd expect. It begins with rain. Rain that carries seeds. Seeds that sprout--overnight, everywhere. These new plants take over crop fields, twine up houses, and burrow below streets. They bloom--and release toxic pollens. They bloom--and form Venus flytrap-like pods that swallow animals and people. They bloom--everywhere, unstoppable.
Or are they? Three kids on a remote island seem immune to the toxic plants. Anaya, Petra, Seth. They each have strange allergies--and yet not to these plants. What's their secret? Can they somehow be the key to beating back this invasion? They'd better figure it out fast, because it's starting to rain again....
An Excerpt fromBloom
Anaya woke up, blind.
With a sigh, she touched her fingertips to her eyelids. Glued shut. She sat up in bed and sneezed seven times in a row. The inside of her nose was granular with dried snot. She stood and expertly felt her way to the bathroom. She found the stack of washcloths by the sink, and turned on the hot water. The first few times she’d woken up like this, she’d freaked out. By now she was used to it, especially at the height of spring allergy season. Patiently she held the moist, warm cloth against each eyelid in turn, melting away the gunk. She slowly pried her eyes open and stared blearily into the mirror.
“Where have you been all my life, you thing of beauty?” she said to her reflection.
Her face was puffy around her eyes. Normally, she thought her eyes were one of her best features, but right now they looked piggy. The end of her nose was chafed and flaky from blowing it all the time. To jazz things up just a little more, a new bouquet of pimples had blossomed across her skin.
The fading echo of a headache pulsed in her skull, and reminded her of last night’s dream. It was one she’d had many times. She’d been running really fast, and it was exhilarating, even if it did always seem to leave her with a headache.
She opened the crammed medicine cabinet. Special cleansers and ointments for her acne, extra puffers for asthma, plastic vials of monster pills for her allergies. She slugged back two. This was definitely a two-pill day.
Anaya started to wash her face, then stopped. What was she doing? She wanted to look as rough as possible. She should’ve left at least one eye glued shut.
She dragged herself down to the kitchen, trying to shamble like a hunchback. With her nose plugged up, it was pretty hard to smell anything--but she could definitely smell the toast. She imagined a piece of thin, crisp bread with just a swipe of butter, and some marmalade soaking into the glistening surface. She loved toast--before she became allergic to practically half the food on earth.
Mom was already in her uniform, loading her breakfast things into the dishwasher.
“I can’t go to school,” Anaya said.
Her mom turned. “Sweetie . . .”
“Can you please just call the school?”
“We let you skip two days last week. Technically, you’re not even sick.”
Anaya pointed at her face. “If I walked into a hospital, they’d have me in the ICU in two seconds.”
Mom laughed softly, then came close and brushed Anaya’s long, wavy hair away from her face. “You’re lovely.”
“My skin’s volcanic!”
“They don’t see your acne, they see you.”
“Only if they have X-ray vision!”
Mom had no idea. She’d always been beautiful, and she was still the most glamorous mom Anaya had ever seen. Just look at her, tall, slim, raven hair spilling over the crisp collar of her white shirt with the epaulets: four stripes, the only female captain flying for Island Air. Lilah Dara--even her name was pretty. When she put on her sunglasses and bomber jacket, she made a pilot’s uniform look like Paris fashion.
Meanwhile, Anaya was shorter; she definitely had Dad’s sturdier body type. She didn’t mind that--what she minded was her acne, and not being able to make it through class without having an asthma attack, and feeling generally feeble.
“Are you using the acne cream?” Mom asked.
“You’re supposed to do it during the day, too.”
“It smells so bad!”
“The doctor said it was important.”
“So I can be hideous and gross-smelling!”
“You are neither,” her mom said, and gave her a hug.
“If I stay home, I can work more on my history project.”
“Your marks couldn’t get any higher, Anaya.”
Anaya gave a pitiful cough and wheeze. “There’s gym today,” she said, giving it one last kick at the can.
“For gym, I will write you a note,” Mom agreed.
Anaya sighed in defeat. Mom was not letting her off school today. Dad, on the other hand, might.
“I’ve got to go. There’s moong dal cheela, warm in the oven,” Mom said. “Tell Dad not to forget the chutney.”
Anaya knew that Mom herself preferred scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast, but for Anaya she often made the lentil pancakes, folded over with paneer inside. Lentils were safe. And even though she was lactose-intolerant, for some unknown reason paneer was one of the few cheeses she could handle. Also, the pancakes were delicious.
Mom adjusted the knot of her black tie. “I’ll be back for dinner.”
“Anywhere good today?”
Mom flew floatplanes, usually de Havilland Beavers, and most of the runs were between Victoria and Vancouver, but there were also plenty of charters between the Gulf Islands, and even farther north.
“I’m bringing back a group that was sport-fishing off Sonora. I’ll probably come home smelling like salmon.”
She hastily wrote a note on the pad by the phone and handed it to Anaya. “It gets better,” she said, kissing her on the forehead. “See you, sweetie.”
She wanted to believe her mother. She wanted to believe that, one day, she’d bloom. She imagined a dull flower suddenly opening its petals, and they were dazzling, and everyone would look up from their phones and whip out their earbuds and gasp and say, Where did that come from! and I’ve never seen anything so beautiful!
She smiled at the fantasy, and grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl. Cutting it in half, she popped it into the microwave for forty-five seconds. If she ate it raw, she got bumps all over her lips, and a really itchy tongue.
Basically, she was allergic to everything. Gluten, eggs, milk. She was allergic to smoke and dust. There were entire months she was allergic to. April was tree pollen, and May, too. June was grass. July was still grass but also mold spores; and then August and September were ragweed.
It hadn’t always been like this, just the last couple of years. Now her picture was plastered all over the staff room like a wanted poster, alerting teachers to her food allergies, and telling them where her EpiPens were. Anaya carried one with her everywhere.
She spooned some honey into her mouth. Someone had told her that local raw honey was a good way of curing allergies because it exposed you slowly to all the pollens in your area. She put the kettle on for her green tea--because someone else had told her it was the healthiest thing in the world for you. When you lived on Salt Spring Island, people were always telling you the best things to eat and drink. Things to make you wise and healthy and live forever.
Dad came into the kitchen, bringing with him the smell of soil. No matter how often he showered, he still smelled like leaf mold and pine needles, and had a line of dirt under his fingernails. He wore the same green merino wool sweater pretty much every day, even though it had frayed at the elbows. He mostly kept his beard tidy, but sometimes it started creeping out of control, like the unruly plants he studied.
Dad was a botanist with the Ministry of Agriculture, and worked at the island’s experimental farm. When she was younger, Anaya thought an experimental farm was a lot weirder and cooler than it turned out to be. She’d imagined giant cows, and chickens the size of velociraptors--but in reality it was a bunch of greenhouses and scraggly plots with boring-looking plants. His specialty was grasses--which her friends thought was hilarious. “Hey, Anaya, can your dad score us some grass? I hear he grows the best weed.” Really, his specialty was figuring out ways to stop things growing--like invasive species that shouldn’t have been here, but were, and were making life miserable for other plants.
“How’re you?” Dad asked.
“I was thinking maybe I should live in a bubble,” Anaya said.
“A bubble,” Dad said, opening the oven and peering in at the pancakes. “Are these all for me?”
“No, I’d like two! You know, like a giant hamster ball. They’re called Blorbs or something. Except mine would filter out allergens.”
Dad set the plate of moong dal cheela in the middle of the breakfast table and sat down. “So, you’d just roll around in it?”
“Pretty much,” Anaya said, helping herself to the lentil pancakes. “I could roll to school.”
“That hill might be tricky,” said Dad.
“I’d have to get up some speed. Anyway, they could clear a space at the back of the classroom, and I’d just kind of wobble around.”
“They could pass you Anaya-friendly snacks through the air lock.”
Anaya couldn’t help grinning. “And maybe one day I’d meet a boy just like me and we’d get a bigger bubble and raise a family of bubble babies.”
Dad nodded thoughtfully. “I think this is a very good idea.”
“Can you please call the school and tell them I’m sick?”
“No,” Dad said sympathetically. “But I’ll give you a lift.”
For the past two weeks, Anaya had been eating lunch with Tereza in the small room off the library where they worked on the yearbook. It was due at the printer’s in ten days and they were rushing to finish layouts.
At the start of the year, a ton of people had volunteered for yearbook, and then all dropped away until it was just her and Tereza. Anaya didn’t mind. She got Tereza to herself. Tereza was a few years older and smoked and wore her boyfriend’s shirts, and there was nothing she hadn’t read. Her parents were European, and she spoke with a weary drawl, so no matter what she said, it seemed profound. Basically, Anaya just wanted to be her.
Anaya also loved the yearbook room. It was a refuge from the crowded hallways, the splayed legs, the noise, the bathroom lineups, the bathroom paper towels (or lack thereof), the bathroom toilet paper (nonexistent), the bathroom toilet seats (too disgusting to contemplate). Really, the school bathroom alone was a good reason to hate school.
Anaya sneezed for the thousandth time today.
“You sound rough,” Tereza said.
Anaya shrugged. She didn’t like talking about her allergies: it made her feel boring. And she already felt like a dull little moth around Tereza’s bright butterfly.
“My aunt, she has wicked allergies,” Tereza said, “and you know what she said helped?”
“Does it involve hanging an onion from my ear?”
Tereza smiled slyly and tapped a cigarette from her pack. She lit it with her Zippo (it had a picture of a jeweled skull on the side), then opened the window, leaned out, and released a plume of smoke from between her lips. Turning back, she offered the cigarette to Anaya.
“I know, it sounds crazy,” Tereza said. “But my aunt said it soothed her throat--maybe relaxed it or something.”
“It makes no sense.”
Anaya had never smoked. Everyone said it was one of the worst things you could do to your body; she also hated the smell. But when Tereza raised her eyebrow in that way she had, Anaya took the cigarette.
She leaned far out the window, sneezed three times in a row, and looked around to make sure no one was watching. The sky was low with dark clouds. Definitely rain coming. Quickly she lifted the cigarette to her lips and took a long, hard suck . . .
And almost immediately was spluttering and hacking. Tereza took the cigarette from her hand and stubbed it out against the brick. Anaya sat back down, eyes streaming.
“Okay, I’m sorry, that was a stupid idea,” Tereza said.
Anaya dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. She took a deep breath through her mouth, exhaled.
The rain came suddenly, battering the glass, drumming against the school roof.
“Geez,” Tereza said, shutting the window.
Anaya was glad. The rain tamped down all the pollen and made her life easier. On the computer, she scrolled through the class photos to make sure they’d got everyone.
“I am so done with all this,” Tereza said.
This was a big word for Tereza. It didn’t just mean yearbook. It meant the entire school. It meant the whole island. Next fall she was headed to university in Toronto. Anaya wondered if Tereza would miss her as much as she was going to miss Tereza. She’d be making new friends and meeting interesting people from all over the world.
Tereza’s eyes flitted wearily over the class photos. “These boys, these boys. No. Just no.”
“What about Fleetwood?” Tereza was her only friend to have a boyfriend.
Tereza gave a small, dismissive wave of her hand. “Oh. Fleetwood.”
“He seems pretty nice,” Anaya said, even though he came across as a bit dopey and was named after a band from the 1970s. “I mean, what’s it like to have someone just . . . look at you that way?”
Tereza sighed. “I know, I know, it’s terrible, so much neediness.”
There was a quick knock on the door before it opened and Fleetwood himself bounded in. With his shaggy hair and big hands and feet, he always reminded Anaya of an oversized puppy.
“You’ve got to see this,” he said.
“Fleetwood, no,” Tereza said. “Remember, we talked about this. This is yearbook time.”
“Can it be Fleetwood time for just a second?” He leaned between them with his phone so they could watch the video. “Kangaroo-fighting!”
“Oh, Fleetwood,” Tereza said sadly.
Anaya had to admit the kangaroos were impressive. Standing upright, they looked uncannily human. The slope of their shoulders, the muscles of their upper arms, their chests. It was actually a bit creepy. Then she noticed their feet. It looked like they only had three toes, and the middle one was much longer, with a wickedly pointed claw.
“Look at these guys!” said Fleetwood. “They’re totally pumped! Look at their biceps! Okay, wait for it . . . check it out!”
The bigger kangaroo jumped straight up, and seemed to balance in midair--was he actually balanced on the tip of his tail?--then kicked out with both feet and slammed the other kangaroo in the stomach. Anaya winced. At least, he hadn’t drawn blood.
“Can you believe that?” Fleetwood exclaimed.
“That was very nice,” said Tereza. “But Anaya and I have work to do. Go play now, Fleetwood. Go find that boy with the baseball cap you like.”
“See you!” Fleetwood said, and kissed her on the mouth.
After he left, Anaya turned back to the monitor. In one of the class-photo layouts was a blank rectangle.
Tereza tapped the screen. “We need a picture of that new boy. He missed photo day.”
Seth Robertson. He’d arrived just a couple of months ago. No one knew much about him, except he was very quiet and kind of odd-looking and always wore long-sleeved shirts and a hoodie, even in gym class. He was being fostered by Mr. and Mrs. Antos, who had an organic vegetable farm.