Show Us Who You Are
A neurodiverse twelve-year-old girl is shown an amazing new technology that gives her another chance to talk to the best friend she lost. But she soon discovers the corporation behind the science hides dark secrets that only she can expose in this heartwarming and heroic sophomore novel from the award-winning author of A Kind of Spark.
A CILIP Carnegie Medal nominee!
*"McNicoll writes Adrien and narrator Cora with nuance and verve." -Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
It has never been easy for Cora to make friends. Cora is autistic, and sometimes she gets overwhelmed and stims to soothe her nerves. Adrien has ADHD and knows what it is like to navigate a world that isn’t always built for the neurodiverse. The two are fast friends until an accident puts Adrien in a coma.
Cora is devastated until Dr. Gold, the CEO of Pomegranate Institute, offers to let Cora talk to Adrien again, as a hologram her company develops. While at first enchanted, Cora soon discovers that the hologram of Adrien doesn’t capture who he was in life. And the deeper Cora dives into the mystery, the more she sees Pomegranate has secrets to hide. Can Cora uncover Pomegranate's dark truth before their technologies rewrite history forever?
An Excerpt fromShow Us Who You Are
The Dreaded Party in Knightsbridge
A Few Months Earlier
“I don’t see why I have to come with you both,” I say, scowling at my older brother, Gregor, and my dad as they rush me out the front door and into our junky old car.
“It’s this little thing called the law, Cora,” Dad says as he cheerfully pushes me into the backseat while Gregor frantically checks his reflection in the rearview mirror. “I’m not allowed to leave you alone in the house. Especially after what you did to the toaster.”
“The guy from the fire department said that happens all the time. Besides, you’re going to let me run around London by myself during the summer,” I argue.
The engine starts and we back out onto the road, setting off for the posh part of town. “That’s way more dangerous than our house. People drive like maniacs nowadays.”
“Don’t I know it,” Gregor mutters as Dad flies over a speed bump, causing my brother and me to grab our armrests and hold on for dear life.
The evening lights of London are too bright for me after an absolutely rubbish day at school. I flick the tension out of my fingers and close my eyes. I am in no mood to put on a social mask and try to appear interested in all the boring things the grown-ups are going to say.
Thirteen soon. My, that’s a big girl. So sad about your mother, we heard all about it.
No, thank you.
Soon enough, Dad and Gregor are bickering about where to park and I realize that we are almost there. Gregor shoves a hastily wrapped present into my hands as we reach the stoop of the enormously tall, but extremely narrow, town house, with a few balloons tied on the doorknob.
“Whose birthday is this?” I hiss as Gregor rings the doorbell.
“Rule Britannia” plays as soon as he does, and Dad has to clap a hand over my mouth to cover my sarcastic groan.
“Save the attitude for later,” Gregor hisses back.
“Oh, I will.”
“It’s the son of my boss. He’s your age. Give the present to the maid.”
The black front door is heaved open to reveal . . . a maid. She looks exhausted and thoroughly unamused. Music and conversation and crowds of people can be seen and heard just behind her. Dad hastily drops his hand from my face as I thrust the present toward her. She accepts it with a sigh and turns to add it to a gigantic pyramid of fancily wrapped gifts.
We follow her in, and she takes our coats. Dad and Gregor are both wearing suits that make them look like very nervous penguins.
My brother rushes off to answer to someone who has gotten his name wrong, leaving Dad and me standing in the hallway. Dad runs his hands along his lapels anxiously while I stare around at the incredibly posh house.
I’m scared to touch anything; it’s like a museum.
“Who are you, then?”
I glance up at a tall, willowy woman with long icy-blond hair as she descends the stairs gracefully. She’s holding her hand out toward me with a wide smile.
It’s moments like these when I have no idea what they want me to do. Does she want me to hold her hand or shake it?
I gingerly put out my hand and her bracelets jangle as she grasps it. Squeezes it.
“Are you a friend of Adrien’s?” she asks excitedly.
“No. I’m Cora Byers. My brother works for Mr. Hawkins.”
“And Mr. Hawkins has been incredibly rude and stolen your brother away from you and your father when you don’t know a soul,” she says, smiling brightly at Dad.
She’s still gripping my hand. “Yes,” I answer bluntly.
“You come with me, my love,” she says, leading me through the swarm of people, who pay us no attention. Hollow laughter rings out around me as the lady leads me to the back of the house. “There aren’t a lot of kiddies here for you to talk to, I’m afraid.”
“Oh.” I don’t tell her that I actually don’t mind being by myself.
“Please get Mr. Byers a drink,” she tells the maid as we pass her.
“Can’t, I’m driving,” Dad calls before disappearing into the crowd behind us.
We reach what must be the back door and she finally releases my hand.
“See if you can find the birthday boy,” she says, handing me a large, shining golden key that was hanging on the wall. I stare down at it in confusion, and then back up at her, but she’s gone. Leaving me with the mysterious item.
The back door is already open, so I’m not certain what the key is for until I step outside.
Down the stone steps, I can see it. A huge, hidden garden, behind tall iron gates, with trees peeking over the top. I move slowly toward it, desperate for the solitude and quiet. I can’t stand the crowded bodies, the noise and all the sensory pressure.
A garden seems so luxurious. I wish we had one.
The key opens the black gate swiftly and I’m inside, sheltered by the trees.
A biology teacher at school said something about trees and oxygen; I can’t fully remember the lesson. But I do feel like they give me breath sometimes.
I’m just starting to feel relaxed when I get a tingle. I’m being followed.
Constantly having trouble in the school hallways has given me a sixth sense. I know when I’m being watched or talked about. I can feel the unwanted attention on the back of my neck.
I keep walking, gripping the key and pressing it against my stomach. Maybe it’s because I had a nasty day at school, but I’m quickly becoming angry.
I’m tired of being treated like a spectacle.
As I hear a faint crunch behind me, I spin around. I slam my arm against the blur of a shape and push.
It falls to the ground, taking me down too, the key forgotten on the grass by the path.
My forearm is pressed against the collarbone of a boy. My age, or a little older. He splutters for a moment and then laughs loudly.
“Why are you creeping up on me?” I snap.
“Why are you so strong?” he retorts, laughing between words.
“Are you spying on me?”
“Oh, yes,” he snorts as I release him. He sits up, still laughing. “You walked all the way from the gate to the middle of the path. Exciting stuff.”
“Who are you?”
“You’re the one in my garden. You should tell me who you are.”
I take a good look at him. Tall but not gangly, and definitely my age. Dark curls and a nose that’s a little too big for his face. His eyes are completely lit up with laughter and it’s very alarming. All the boys at school have started getting really mean eyes. His are nothing like theirs.
I glare at him. “You’re Adrien Hawkins.”
He points his finger right in front of my face. “You got it.”
I shove his finger away. “Fine. Happy birthday. Your present’s back in the house.”
“You got me a present?”
“That’s nice for a complete stranger.”
He doesn’t talk like other kids our age. Or any grown-ups I know, in fact. None of my rehearsed and prepared conversations match what he’s saying so I just pick up the key and walk away, toward what appears to be tennis courts at the other end of the secret garden.
“Do you go to school?” he asks, falling in step beside me.
“Of course I go to school,” I mutter.
“That makes sense,” I reply, looking him up and down.
“I dunno.” I blow my bangs out of my eyes. “You’re not . . . broken down.”
He chuckles. “Yeah. Mum pulled me out before that could happen. I learn better at home.”
Maybe that’s why his behavior is so different.
“Do you have a name?”
“Yes,” I say coolly.
“Can you tell me?”
“Why aren’t you at your own party?”
“It’s not really my party,” he says flatly. “It’s my dad’s party. For all his fancy friends and people from work.”
“Your dad’s my brother’s boss.”
“Your brother works at Pomegranate?”
Pomegranate Institute is Magnus Hawkins’s company. I’m still not entirely sure what they do there. Gregor sometimes starts talking about it, but Dad always changes the subject.
“Yes,” I tell him, happier to talk about Gregor than about myself.
“My dad must think he’s useful if he’s invited you all here.”
Another strange comment. I ignore it.
“It’s fine if you don’t want to tell me your name.”
“I’ll just guess.”
I close my eyes. Is he going to go through every girl’s name he can think of?
“Angela.” He is.
“It’s Cora.” I sigh.
“C for Cora.” He grins. “Cool. I like that.”
I keep waiting for a horrid remark to follow. That’s what the kids at school would do. Sweetness followed by an even bigger sting. But he doesn’t.
Mum once said, when she was alive, that boys were mean to girls because they liked them. I thought that was the most revolting thing I had ever heard, and I know it’s not true of the boys at school.
Adrien suddenly turns his head and whistles, loudly and shrilly. I flinch away from him, the sound too loud for my senses.
Something comes bounding toward us. “Cerby, this is Cora. Cora, this is my dog.”
A large dog with tufty ears looks up at me, tail wagging furiously.
“Boy, she had me pinned to the ground and where were you?” Adrien asks jokingly, ruffling the dog’s neck fur. “Huh? Where were you?”
I fight a smile and lose. The dog is cute, and they make a nice pair.
“I want to see this present Cora’s brought all the way here for me, boy,” Adrien says teasingly. He sets off toward the house, Cerby following him diligently.
I scowl. He’s calling my bluff and I don’t like it.
I follow the two of them out of the garden and up the stone steps to the back door of the house. Everyone seems to have moved into the drawing room. The birthday present pile remains untouched by the stairs.
Adrien moves toward it and then glances over at me. “So. Which one is from you?”
I grimace, trying to remember. Then I spot the one that hasn’t been professionally gift-wrapped. “That one.” He carefully whips it out and the pyramid stays intact.
I’m almost impressed.
“It’s signed from you and Gregor,” he states, smiling as he reads the tag. “So what is it?”
He stares at me straight-on, lips twitching. I glower.
I’m not losing this annoying game.
“It’s”--I try to think of which boring yet useful thing my big brother would have bought and wrapped up--“it’s an alarm clock.”
“An alarm clock?” He slowly pulls the ribbon from the box, never looking away from me and never losing his determined little smile. “Really?”
I smile back haughtily. “Really.”
Adrien unwraps the package, gaze still locked onto me. I suddenly feel like snorting.
He’s making me laugh.
We both look down, surprised to see him unwrapping a model plane in a box. One that has to be built from scratch. I look up at him, expecting him to gloat at the fact that he won our odd little back-and-forth.
But he looks suddenly less playful.
“Sorry,” I say jokingly. “Not an alarm clock.”
“No, this is better,” he says quietly. “I love planes.”
I look down at Cerby, who’s sniffing the other presents. “Well . . . that’s good.”
“I want to be a pilot someday,” he tells me, smiling widely.
“Wow.” I want to be a reporter, but I don’t say so out loud.
He puts the box gently on top of the pile and beams at me.
“Thanks, Cora. I love my present.”
I snort, knowing he knows I had no part in the present. But I want to pretend I did, so I smile graciously. “You’re welcome, Adrien.”
“You found him!”
We both turn to see the glamorous woman from earlier. She comes over, a glass of champagne in one of her slender hands.
Adrien pretends to try to escape her, but she catches him and plants a huge wet kiss on his temple. She leaves a massive dark red lipstick stain on his skin and he laughs. “Happy birthday, darling.” She keeps one arm wrapped around him, turning to smile warmly at me.
“Cora! Did you like the garden?”
“Yeah,” I say, a little shyly. “Yeah, it was nice.”
“And have you two made friends, then?” she asks brightly, looking back at Adrien.
I expect him to be embarrassed and to pull away from her, but he beams broadly at me. “Yep.”
I’m too surprised to argue.
“Good!” his mum cries delightedly. Her happiness is too obvious to mistake or misread. “Adrien gets quite lonesome during the summers, Cora. You must come over whenever you want.”
I think of my own usually long and lonely summers and feel a strange twinge.
“I’ll think about it, Mrs. Hawkins.”
And the weird thing is that I just might.
The Pomegranate Institute
It’s Saturday, the day after the party. I’m sitting at our breakfast table and Gregor has made me a plate of buttery toast and two large fried eggs. Dad is staring out the window, as he does now that Mum isn’t here to tell him off for putting too much salt on his eggs. Gregor is reading the newspaper.
“What does Pomegranate do?”
I ask Gregor the question. Dad glances at me nervously.
“It’s not easy to explain,” Gregor says carefully, laying his newspaper down with an air of great importance. “They use artificial intelligence to provide a service.”
“No, not robots. More like holograms.”
“Gregor.” Dad’s voice is a warning.
“What are they holograms of?” I ask Gregor, ignoring Dad.
“Well, they’re of people,” Gregor says. “Of real people.”
I frown in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
“When it’s fully up and running”--Gregor scoots his chair a little closer to me and gives me his full attention--“it will be open to the paying public. They can pay money to spend time with the holograms.”
“But why would they do that?”
“Well, because some of them will be doubles of famous people. They can pay money and have a long conversation with their favorite actor or musician. Like they’re really meeting the person.”
“But how will that be like meeting the real thing?”
“Well, that’s where the Golden Department comes in. They take great pains to make sure every Gram--hologram, that is--will be as humanlike and true to life as possible. They’ll study the subject they’re re-creating and won’t activate it until it’s identical. It’s people’s brains and souls uploaded onto a computer and then projected!”