The Epic Story of Every Living Thing
From the award-winning author of A Heart in a Body in The World comes a gorgeous and fiercely feminist young adult novel. When a teen travels to Hawaii to track down her sperm donor father, she discovers the truth about him, about the sunken shipwreck that’s become his obsession, and most of all about herself.
Harper Proulx has lived her whole life with unanswered questions about her anonymous sperm donor father. She's convinced that without knowing him, she can't know herself. When a chance Instagram post connects Harper to a half sibling, that connection yields many more and ultimately leads Harper to uncover her father's identity.
So, fresh from a painful breakup and still reeling with anxiety that reached a lifetime high during the pandemic, Harper joins her newfound half siblings on a voyage to Hawaii to face their father. The events of that summer, and the man they discover—a charismatic deep-sea diver obsessed with solving the mystery of a fragile sunken shipwreck—will force Harper to face some even bigger questions: Who is she? Is she her DNA, her experiences, her successes, her failures? Is she the things she loves—or the things she hates? Who she is in dark times? Who she might become after them?
An Excerpt fromThe Epic Story of Every Living Thing
Marriages: In this city, April 1, Captain Joshua A. Patten, 26, master mariner, of Rockland, Maine, to Mary Ann Brown, 15, daughter of Mr. George Brown, seamaster, and Mrs. Elizabeth Brown, both of East Boston.
Boston Post, April 1, 1853
Harper scooches her foot this way, and then scooches her foot back. It’s always so hard to know what to do with your hands. Why are you so suddenly aware of your hands when you’re trying to take a good photo, when they usually just do their own thing? Right behind Harper, the sheer rock face of Rattlesnake Ridge sits like a headstone against the murky green of Rattlesnake Lake. When she posts those names, it’s all going to sound hazardous and thrilling, even if Harper has never seen any kind of snake there, just cagey squirrels darting around, and regular old crows staring menacingly. That murky green--it can be fixed in a second with a saturation edit. Ezra crouches down and then stands back up, snapping away. He’s great at getting a variety of angles. Right then, all of this is incredibly important to Harper. Crucial, even.
Later, much later, when Harper looks at those images, she’ll see a girl who lives at the surface, who doesn’t have a clue about what’s beneath it, including a bomb, an actual bomb, lying dormant, but not for long. She’ll see a girl who has no idea that she’s about to have a fateful meeting with another girl, and with a creature, too--a strange, glowing creature, the most beautiful underwater alien you can imagine, something with a soul, for sure. A creature that moves like a secret, mysterious heartbeat, in, out, rising from that old wreck as if to tell important truths about resilience, about what matters and what lasts. That wreck with a hidden story, as Harper has a hidden story.
But even more, when she looks at those images, she’ll see someone just standing there at Rattlesnake Ridge, worrying about her hair, completely unaware of what’s going to happen to her in a matter of hours.
“Is this good?” Harper shouts to Ezra.
“The mountain’s coming right out of your head,” he shouts back, and so Harper scoots to the left.
“Head tilt or no?” she shouts to Ezra.
“Sure,” he says.
Harper smiles, but it’s the kind of smile that doesn’t make it to your eyes. Even she can tell that, so she tries again. She tries to beam. She’s pretty sure a person doesn’t naturally beam, that beaming takes effort. Ezra click-clicks a bunch more.
“Let me see.”
Ez hands Harper her phone. He’s done this enough times to know it might be a while. He takes out his own phone to keep busy, thumbs flying as he texts, head bent down. He has the best hair. Dark curls, a mess of them. And he’s the best boyfriend, too. Sweet. The chunky-sweater, hey, do you want to try this kind, offering you a bite. Always letting Harper know that he’s thinking about her when they aren’t together. Always saying how lucky he is, and loving her body just as it is, and even being nice to Harper’s mom, who doesn’t think he’s good enough for her and sometimes shows it. Melinda Proulx, who teaches economics at their local community college, wants Ezra to be a go-getter, to have goals, to have the résumé of an up-and-coming CEO, even though he’s only seventeen. To be in student government, or an intern at Amazon. To be athletic, at least.
Ezra--with that mix of traits from his Cuban mother and his Jewish father, and his sometimes retro-rumpled clothing choices (a long scarf, his dad’s old overcoat)--he looks artistic or something, which Harper loves. Pretty much, Ezra actually just likes to read, and be with his family, and he has to work hard to pass his classes, but he has that undefinable vibe of being interesting. When she posts photos of both of them, they look interesting together. It’s a bonus.
Harper makes sure not to have too much lovey couple stuff on her page, though. It’s a delicate balance. When you look at someone’s posts, you want to feel slightly, pleasantly, voyeuristically envious, but not hostile, I-hate-you envious. She’s known for a hiking-outdoor-adventure vibe, lots of mountains and waterfalls and lakes and meaningful nature images, featuring Harper doing adventuresome things. But people like it when you break things up occasionally--shots of you with your interesting boyfriend, a sprinkling of adorable animals, some just-regular-life moments, and a few romantic yet unchallenging objects, like a rumpled bed or a latte or a croissant.
Harper’s pretty sure she could work at an advertising agency with all the stuff she’s figured out. Or maybe a false advertising agency, because the truth is, the idea of actual adventures is pretty terrifying. People fall off cliffs and drown in lakes and get buried under mountain avalanches. Do you know how many mosquito bites you’d get if you actually went hiking in a bikini? And what about all the deadly diseases that mosquitoes carry? Seriously, if she were truly going on mountain treks as often as it seems, how would she ever get her homework done? Or go to school at all? Or even have time to post all these photos of herself on forest trails with the sunlight coming through the trees? Take Rattlesnake Ridge, right there. In addition to its lack of rattlesnakes, that dramatic rock rising above the arc of green water makes it look like they hiked for miles into a hidden corner of paradise, when they’re really just a few steps from the parking lot, and a short drive from Seattle. Luckily, Washington State is full of places like this, and close to home, too.
Last year, during the first months of the pandemic, Rattlesnake Ridge sure wasn’t a hidden corner of paradise; it was packed. To cure the wall-scratching claustrophobia and sheer boredom of quarantine while still avoiding other human beings, everyone headed to the mountains and the beaches, which meant that everyone was now at the mountains and the beaches. They eventually closed all those places, which was kind of like closing down nature. Harper and her mom, under the same roof for weeks, drove out here, but the Ridge was so crowded, they turned right around and went home. Harper’s mom made her use hand sanitizer and wipes, even though they didn’t get out of the car.
Harper scrolls through the photos Ez just took. In some, her arms look big, she thinks, the way they’re squished against her sundress. In others, you can only see the bad side of her hair. It’s all she can see. Fat arms, bad hair. Fat arms, bad hair. Ugh.
“Hey, Harp. Ready?” Ezra zips his phone into his bag. “I’ve got to get back. I told my mom I’d watch Binx.” Binx is Ezra’s little brother, who’s three. These are more things to love about Ez--his sweet family, his mom and dad, the way he’s so cute and patient with that tiny terror, always making sure he has a couple of Band-Aids in his pocket, because Binx loves Band-Aids. The little guy is always sticking out a perfectly intact arm or knee and saying, OWEE, and after you carefully attend to the invisible wound, he’ll run off happily. Man, if it were only that easy with every wound you can’t see.
Harper wants to ask Ezra to take a few more photos so she can hold out her arms and smile with her lips closed, but he has to get home, and she doesn’t want to be one of those girls who treat their boyfriends like an assistant, with no lunch breaks or vacation days. She isn’t going to make him trek everywhere carrying tripods and lights, asking him to lift her up in his arms as her dress cascades down, in one of those no one would ever wear that outfit in a desert type shots. Well, she isn’t going to make him do that again, not after he gave her the silent treatment for a whole weekend that time.
“Ready. And hey, thanks,” Harper says. When Ezra looks up, his eyes are so green. Of course, she knows they’re green, and sometimes she makes them greener in his photos, but, wow. She has one of those moments where you actually see someone you normally go around forgetting to see. “Come here.” She tugs his T-shirt and kisses him. She sticks her hand in his back pocket like it’s her back pocket.
“The monster will be in bed by seven-thirty, if you want to swing by.” Ezra loops his arms around her.
“Calculus test. Ez, I’m failing . . . ,” Harper moans.
“Yeah, can I fail like that?” He makes a face. He struggles with Algebra II. In truth, Harper’s grade has only dropped to an A minus.
On the drive home, Ezra has Armor Class Zero playing, and he pounds the steering wheel in rhythm, and spring is painting yellow light over the mountains on either side of I-5, and the clouds are as fluffy as beaten egg whites. The trees rise grandly, doing their important job of making oxygen and keeping the ground solid and sheltering deer and birds and the occasional black bear. It’s all the best version of April, so different from the last one, when they were panicked and scared, locked in the house since virus intruders were everywhere, scrolling death tolls while struggling with the boredom of online school and the dull irritation of captivity. This spring is hope plus future plus promise, at least mostly. It’s the world offering itself, reminding you it’s still here. But Harper barely notices. She’s trying hard not to reach into her purse for her phone. She wants to fix those photos so bad. That phone is practically shouting at her in there. She wishes Ezra would just hurry up and get them home. He’s going sixty-five, but it feels like he’s dawdling by enjoying the music like that.
Harper picks at the crack in the plastic of Ezra’s seat, because anxiety is jetting under her skin. She feels this big ticking clock of expectation. Everything seems crazy and urgent every single second. She tries this trick that Ada’s dad told her, where you inhale up the imaginary side of a triangle for five seconds, exhale down the other side for five seconds, and pause along the bottom for another five. But triangles morph into geometry, which slides into calculus, her enemy, and tests and failure and that semitruck on their ass.
“I love this song,” Ezra says, in spite of climate change, fat arms, pandemics, and grades.
It’s times like these that make Harper wonder: If she had the kind of family that Ez does, would she be optimistic and easygoing, too? If she had more than a mother and a mystery, would she feel safe?
One thing Harper knows without a doubt: all that stuff you hear about body positivity and self-acceptance, the ending of body-shaming, et cetera, et cetera--it’s a shining vision for the future maybe, but it sure isn’t true yet. If it were, we wouldn’t have treatments to make your hair glossier, heels to make your legs longer, Spanx to make you slimmer, sticks of makeup to contour your face, things that, if you imagined a guy doing them, you’d laugh. There wouldn’t be so many apps to help you edit your lips and nose and body, either, Harper thinks, as she sits on her bed in her room, using one of those apps to edit her lips and nose and body. Hopefully, no one will be able to tell. The only thing worse than having the faults is people knowing you fixed the faults.
Do guys go to this much trouble with their photos? It sure doesn’t seem like it. Every now and then, one of those strange, creepy dudes who follow you out of nowhere will appear, the kind who have only a handful of photos on their profile. Wearing aviator sunglasses in one, shirt off in another, thinking he’s hot shit in a suit, drinking a beer on a Jet Ski. And clearly, they think they look amazing, even when they seem gross and they’re old and she’s not, so just stop, for God’s sake. One bad selfie in the mirror, and they’re like, Hello, you stud. Harper can’t imagine having confidence like that.
On her bed, with the travel posters of places she’s never been on the walls around her, her ignored calculus book splayed open, sipping a half-drunk can of Mountain Dew she’ll ditch before her mom sees (more than forty grams of sugar per can, and uniquely dangerous to the pancreas), Harper deletes all the imperfect images. She pushes the little trash can, and, poof, the mistakes are gone. Goofy expressions, closed eyes, or looking off in the wrong direction, zap. She’s reached the fuck it stage, so she chooses the one where she’s standing, fake beaming, Rattlesnake Ridge in the back, green water, teeth now white, arms now slim, contrast up, brightness up, shadows down, saturation raised a few notches, filter--dramatic. It looks pretty good. It looks casual.
Captions. Her fingers fly, tap, tap, tap. Nature all around. No. Beauty all around. Nature or beauty? Maybe just Nature with a heart emoji. Or Nature with a heart emoji and a tree emoji. You’re supposed to ask a question because that always gets more “engagement.” Afternoon escape. What’s YOUR favorite time of day? But does she really and honestly care what anyone’s favorite time of day is? Not just kind of but really care? She herself can tell when someone asks a question just to hook people into answering. There’ll be a sudden landslide of comments, too, and she’ll have to respond. I like it just after the sun rises! Or Sunset, because ROMANTIC. It’ll be another expectation on the tipping pile of expectations. She settles on Next up: vegan tacos. It sounds carefree and spontaneous.
Next, hashtags. #allaboutadventures #hiking #tourtheplanet #awesomeearth #roamtheplanet #beautifuldestinations #explore #optoutside #earthpix #paradise #rattlesnakeridge #beautyallaround. When she was little, there weren’t even hashtags yet. When she first heard the word, she kept thinking hash browns. Now they’re such a regular part of life, her mind almost thinks in them. #morninglight #whatsforbreakfast #icandrivemyselfcrazywithhashtags.
She presses the magic word: post.
The image joins all the others--Harper at Mount Rainier, Harper pondering a lake, Harper next to an ironic billboard, open road stretching ahead. Her and Ezra at a beach bonfire. Her and Ezra at a trailhead. Her tussling with Ezra’s dog, Nudo, in golden light. Her with Soraya (#bestfriends), her with Soraya and Ada (#pals #lucky). Her on a wintry trail, wearing mittens and a woolly hat; her in a flouncy dress and boots, kicking fall forest leaves; her on a hike with a red backpack; her with a steaming mug; her on a rock with a retro map. Lots of leaping and leaning and perching on the edges of things, docks, cliffs, shorelines. Never too high, though. Never honestly on a ledge.