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Dead Things Are Closer Than They Appear

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About The Book

A painfully average teen’s life is upended by a magical apocalypse in this darkly atmospheric and sweepingly romantic novel perfect for fans of The Raven Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Rest of Us Just Live Here.

High school is hard enough to survive without an apocalypse to navigate.

Sid Spencer has always been the most normal girl in her abnormal hometown, a tourist trap built over one of the fault lines that seal magic away from the world. Meanwhile, all Sid has to deal with is hair-ruining humidity, painful awkwardness, being one of four Asians in town, and her friends dumping her when they start dating each other—just days after one of the most humiliating romantic rejections faced by anyone, ever, in all of history.

Then someone kills one of the Guardians who protect the seal. The earth rips open and unleashes the magic trapped inside. Monsters crawl from the ground, no one can enter or leave, and the man behind it all is roaming the streets with a gang of violent vigilantes. Suddenly, Sid’s life becomes a lot less ordinary. When she finds out her missing brother is involved, she joins the remaining Guardians, desperate to find him and close the fault line for good.

Fighting through hordes of living corpses and uncontrollable growths of forest, Sid and a ragtag crew of would-be heroes are the only thing standing between their town and the end of the world as they know it. Between magic, murderers, and burgeoning crushes, Sid must survive being a perfectly normal girl caught in a perfectly abnormal apocalypse.

Only—how can someone so ordinary make it in such an extraordinary world?

Excerpt

Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
When it rains in Wellsie, you can see the ghosts.

That’s what we call these remnants of a thing long past, laid to rest in the ground with all other dead things. Magic was here once. And it left its toenail clippings for you to find.

The thing is, we’re a tourist town. They want to sell this.

It’s the same deal for any place sitting on a fault line, though the lingering energy manifests differently. In Siberia, people get vertigo. The temperature drops, all their body hair stands on end, and they fall over like one of those baby goats. I’ve seen GIFs. In Alaska, steam jets from the earth every time the earth rumbles, a natural sauna smelling of molasses or roses or woodsmoke depending on who’s sniffing it. The point is, for those who want to stand where magic lies sealed beneath the earth, there are dozens of places to go.

They come to Llewellyn—Wellsie—because our “ghosts” look like rainbows. Plus, we have mountains and whatnot.

This is relevant because our reputation as a top vacation destination directly affects my physical and emotional well-being.

Like when Wellsie decides to have a deluge of apocalyptic proportions.

Fault-line tours run in the rain, obviously. But with none of the usual hiking, camping, or kayaking going on, everyone else just hangs out in coffee shops all day. Which means I do hard labor.

Wrapping a rag around the steam wand, a gush of hot mist wafts upward, fogging my glasses and multiplying the frizzies around my face. In the movies, people are always polishing their glasses while staring off into the middle distance and having deep thoughts. In reality, it’s something people do when they realize they’ve made the wrong drink and are weighing the pros and cons of handing it to the customer anyway.

Through the haze of steam, people crowd around every table; some hover at the window, wiping the condensation away to watch the rain. Lulu’s is not a large place, going from cozy to cramped in seconds. The customer line extends all the way back to the door, where umbrellas are stacked in a haphazard heap. It takes everything in me not to scream “Squirrel!” and clear the place in five seconds. It’s the college kids’ fault for feeding them all these years. Now they’re a menace to society, afraid of nothing, crawling up a pant leg to wrestle the bagel straight from your hand.

Lulu’s Café has been packed every day since Sugar, Sugar closed. We serve decent coffee, but Sugar, Sugar was far superior in the baked goods department. Sugar, Sugar cared about their customers. They had actual name badges. I have a name badge, but it does not say, SID SPENCER. It says, HELLO, MY NAME IS HERE’S YOUR COFFEE, PLEASE GO. We stand behind the counter, stare into space, do next to nothing, and scowl any time the bell on the door jingles. I’m pretty sure Joe specifically hires people who embrace mediocrity. Just this morning, when I was blearily drinking the coffee my mother (a morning person) made, I asked her how she got it so perfect—strong, yet not too strong. And she replied, “I measure it.”

Whatever. I’m not a morning person, which means I become competent at life an hour before bedtime. Some people jump out of bed, eager to face the day. Some people wake up and sob, “I wish I knew how to quit you” into their pillows. My ex-best friend Nell once said, “If you aren’t getting quality sleep, how can you be your best self?” Maybe I don’t have a best self. Maybe I have one self with no qualifier, a self that takes the last nacho everyone else is too polite to take.

As the orders multiply next to me, I work halfheartedly on latte-ing through them. It involves a lot of yawning and sprinkling the wrong spices on top of foam.

Our crowd-control needs increase by a factor of ten when spring and summer roll around and the town is at its rainiest. Losing even one of the ten million coffee shops in Wellsie means we’ll be infested. We need Sugar, Sugar. The tourists need to go somewhere to demand oat milk. The college students need to go somewhere to buy one small coffee and camp out with their laptops all day.

A warped reflection of my face appears, all red and sweaty, hair literally everywhere, in the chrome of the espresso machine. I’m reminded of all the times I’ve looked in the mirror without my glasses. Soft around the edges, round in the face, doughy in the body—exactly like a cream puff. And when I put my glasses on, same.

Enough people in books gaze at themselves in mirrors to convince me it’s something everyone does and I shouldn’t feel weird about it. But girls in books do it to see that they are white and possess a beauty of which they are wholly unaware. In my personal experience, I stare at my reflection to see that I’m Korean and that I could maybe pass as a semifunctional human being if I wasn’t too lazy to shower. You have two choices with curly hair: 1.) Wash it, brush it when it’s wet (NEVER DRY), spend two hours lying on the floor with it fanned out to air-dry, and refuse to expose it to the elements ever again; 2.) Don’t wash it and throw it into a nest on top of your head.

I chose the latter option today so that’s where I’m at, emotionally.

“Sara!” I shout, as a tremor ripples through the floor, jiggling the cup I’ve placed on the pickup counter. Bracing it with one hand, I wait for the quivers to subside. You can instantly tell the tourists from the locals based on who stops midsentence and gapes and who bites unperturbed into their biscotti so all we hear is open-mouthed crunching.

A woman wearing a WELLSIE: WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS T-SHIRT—Sara, I assume—clutches the counter with both hands for balance. An extremely extra-looking camera hangs around her neck. When the earth rumble fades, she stares at me, wide-eyed. “Does that happen often?”

I shrug. “Often enough. It happens on every fault line. You’ll get used to it.”

Oblivious to the customers giving me death glares as the crowd expands by the second, she whispers ominously, “Is the magic trying to get out?

“It can’t get out,” I say as patiently as seventeen years of this allow. “What you see, what you hear, they’re just echoes—”

Guardians still have magic, though,” she rushes to say, and I realize engaging at all was the wrong move. “They could unlock the fault lines.” She leans in closer, watching me without blinking. “Have you ever… met one?”

“I’ve met a lot of con artists,” I say, trying to figure out if she’s one of the conspiracy theorists who come through here convinced the whole town has superpowers and we’re just covering it up.

Her eager smile fades.

“Well, it must be wonderful to grow up here,” she muses, not making any move to leave. “To remember that magic used to be everywhere once.”

It was, and people abused it, and it had to be locked in the ground forever, but whatever.

Joe, the café manager, who treats customers like crap in a way I’ve always admired, pauses next to me, glowering at Sara. Joe is even less pleased everyone’s coming to Lulu’s. “You got your coffee,” he barks at her. “Please leave.”

Occasionally, people think he’s being funny, which never leads anywhere good. Luckily, Sara looks properly offended and backs away, muttering that she’ll go to a better-mannered fault-line town next time.

“The one in Iowa is top-notch,” Joe, unfazed, says to her retreating back before giving the never-ending queue of cups next to me a significant glance. He’s never been to Iowa because no one goes to Iowa unless they’ve been kidnapped and brought there in the trunk of a car. Still, he promotes it to everyone, hoping they’ll never come back.

The bell above the door jingles again. Two more people wedge themselves inside.

I freeze for a moment, a deer in headlights, not knowing what to do with myself.

He shakes his head, droplets flying everywhere, as she shields her face and laughs, a musical laugh I can hear over the din of conversation.

It must be wonderful to grow up here. To remember that magic used to be everywhere once.

But most of us are not Guardians. We don’t possess powers. We aren’t chosen to protect Keys of sacrificed bone. We just exist here, unextraordinary, and all we see are the remnants left behind. Memories of what we lost.

My body restarts. Instantly, I’m back to packing espresso into the brew head.

I thought they wouldn’t come.

I grind more coffee and pretend I’m grinding bones, watch espresso dribble into shot glasses like black blood, and foam milk until it resembles the froth oozing from someone’s mouth when they’ve been poisoned. My hearts in the foam look like lumpy teardrops.

Neither of them orders a latte; I won’t have to call their names.

Nell’s hair is getting long and remains perfectly straight and silky. “Look, I have frizz too,” she said once.

“That’s static,” I said back. “It’s not the same.”

She’d tilted her head wistfully and said, “I wish I had hair like Blackpink.”

“You can’t have hair like theirs unless you have a legion of stylists following you around.” It wasn’t what I’d wanted to say. I’d wanted to say I wished I did too. That in a town like this, a Korean girl has to be Blackpink or she’s no one and there is no in between.

Finn’s hair is longer, too, the same blond as hers. He has green eyes rather than her blue, but they look like matching Gap models. I read an article once saying couples tend to look alike and they choose partners with similar levels of attractiveness. The article didn’t specify how one measured this.

A touch of pink tinges her cheeks as she ducks her head. Finn reaches across the table to brush a lock of hair out of her face, smiling like she’s the most precious thing in the world.

I focus on the amber-colored beams overhead and on the chalk menu on the wall, reading the names, the prices. A local artist is displaying a whole lot of naked fairy art.

And then I’m staring at a name on the coffee cup in my hand, and my breath suspends in my lungs for a moment—Adam O’Brien. Of course he’s here. “Adam? I have a latte for Adam?” Shaky, sounding like a question. Like I’m afraid.

A hulking red-haired figure approaches the counter. It’s not fair we’re the same age, yet he has this much extraneous height. He always complains I make the lattes too hot. He doesn’t dare complain to Joe or he’ll get ice-cold milk with a few coffee grounds floating on top.

When he doesn’t move away immediately, I force myself to give him what I hope is a dark, forbidding stare that probably comes off as constipated, while he gives me that look, the look someone gives you when they want you to know they know something about you. His gaze is a spotlight and I’m exposed, not just to him, but to everyone. He makes a show of turning the cup around to where his name is scrawled.

“Checking for a confession of eternal love,” he says. “I hear that’s your thing.”

Adam once shot at the fault line. The bullet ricocheted, and now he has no ear. He really doesn’t get to mock anyone for their decisions.

Maybe I’ll ask if he remembers our last conversation, after he asked Nell out. How I also know something he’d rather I didn’t.

The truth is, there are two types of girls in this world: those who get asked out and those who reject people for their friends. The first boy I rejected for Nell was Dave Wrenn—my first crush, second grade. He wasn’t the last. I never told her, not any of the times. It’s the kind of secret you keep from beautiful people. Rejecting Adam was easy, though, the way it is when that person rolls freshmen down the stairs in trash cans. I still told him gently. It didn’t matter. He’ll never forget I was the one who embarrassed him, not Nell.

His lips curl, not a smile. “That letter you gave Warren entertained us for weeks. On the bright side, at least people know you exist now.”

Because before that, I was “Nell’s friend.” That’s what he means, and the sting brings tears to my eyes. Triumph widens his smile.

“Joe,” I say, a distinct hitch to my voice. “Adam O’Brien doesn’t like his coffee.”

Joe turns off the coffee grinder and faces him, clenching a spoon in his fist. A spoon is not a particularly threatening object, but the fist holding it is rapidly turning red. Joe takes coffee complaints seriously. The amusement fades from Adam’s eyes.

“Something wrong with your coffee?” Joe growls.

Adam stares at him sullenly but says nothing.

Joe’s eyes narrow. “That’s what I thought. Get out.”

Adam strolls away, but not without a mean snicker that travels back to me.

It’s accurate what they say about high school and gossip. Once you become “that girl,” it follows you. There are worse things to be known for, obviously. I could be that guy who got an erection during his eighth grade China presentation. Spontaneous erections are a thing, and in my mind, they could happen to anyone. If I had a penis, it would absolutely happen to me, because of course. The point is, fair or unfair, he never lived that down. I am the girl who wrote a six-page love letter to Finn Warren and that’s all I’ll ever be.

I feel Nell’s gaze even before our eyes meet. She doesn’t smile. Something flickers over her face, but it vanishes so quickly, I can’t decipher it. She says something to him, to Finn. As his head turns, I’m already looking away, and there’s a lump in my throat I can’t swallow.

Maybe she misses me.

“I’m sorry you’re upset,” she’d said at the time, in her quiet way. Not an apology. Except she was teary-eyed and afraid to look at me. “People can’t help who they like.”

Nell is the kind of quiet that comes off like she’ll only notice you if you’re worth her time. If she likes you, you believe you’ve proven something, and therefore you like yourself more. It’s a psychological thing. I’ve had years of studying it. Maybe I’m an example.

Meanwhile, if you’re average, you’re approachable; people like you well enough, and you’re the one they talk to. Even if you aren’t the one they want.

She knew him because of me. She barely said a word to him for months.

I sneak another glance at their table by the windows. They’ve gone, though the weight of their presence lingers. I have to wipe their table, stand where he rested his guitar case. They left their coffee mugs on the table rather than bringing them to the dish bin. It’s okay to hate people who do that, right?

Do I miss Nell? That’s not really a question when you meet someone in the first grade and you’ve been together ever since. A decade.

I pick up her empty mug. Vanilla-flavored coffee with cinnamon sprinkled on top.

I met Finn Warren when he played an open mic in this very café, when we talked all night. I was his first friend in town.

“I feel like I can tell you anything,” he’d said at the time.

I’d thought the same about him, though half a year later, a letter seemed easier.

Easier until his whole basketball team knew. Until everyone knew.

And when he asked Nell out, she knew too.

The thing about Nell no one else ever saw is that she’s not cold or aloof, just painfully shy. Her deepest fear is embarrassment—walking around with her shirt inside out the whole day.

Or having everyone stare at her and laugh.

Finn did that to me.

I miss Nell. I miss her all the time. But she chose.

There’s no sign of my brother, Matty, outside the café, though his shift at Hunt and Hike ends the same time as mine.

Wellsie’s a small town, but ever since the sexual assault at Hampton College last year, my mother doesn’t want me walking alone at night. It doesn’t help that she recently watched the news and found out the KKK capital of the state is forty minutes from here, thus my white mother is now afraid of all white people. This would be fine except Wellsie is really friggin’ white. So this is my life now.

Under the portico, shielded from the rain, I check my texts on the off chance my sister, Ella, decided to pick us up. The last text is a drooling emoji in response to me saying I have the book she wanted from the library. With a quick glance down the street toward Hunt and Hike I decide to walk before the rain gets worse. Matty can catch up with me.

As I turn, there’s a split second of darkness before I slam straight into a stone wall appearing out of nowhere. With my face.

White lights blink against the black. Pain bursts its way through the shock.

This is what death feels like.

My nose is obliterated. Not even a graze, but a full-on face smash. Tears fill my eyes, blurring whatever vision I have left.

A hand grabs my upper arm to keep me from toppling backward, and the other catches my glasses before they slide off my nose. Walls don’t have hands.

“Sorry,” I mutter, checking my nose for protruding bones.

It takes a second to get over the blow, apparently caused by a chest. In my defense, all tall people are walls when their chests are on level with your face.

He probably hits his head on a lot of doorframes, and, like, trees.

Through tears, I register a rangy white dude with a Sugar, Sugar T-shirt beneath his hoodie. I’m wearing a Lulu’s Café T-shirt. We’re rivals. Maybe I should challenge him to a dance-off.

I brush the moisture from my eyes to see Brian Aster looking down at me, his brown hair plastered to his forehead and dripping with rain. Sometimes faces are difficult to describe because they’re nondescript. Brian’s face is hard to describe because it’s not. His face is all lines and angles. Like his nose, sharp and triangular. Like the brows, all perfectly horizontal. Plus, he’s looking directly at me. It’s only when faced with this unnerving blue stare, a dark blue I can’t see past, that I realize no one does that, looks directly at you. Except maybe Paddington Bear. Paddington Bear is always going around giving people hard stares.

The SUGAR, SUGAR in curly script across his chest is a little incongruous with the whole tattooed, I-clearly-cut-my-own-hair vibe he has going on.

That’s when I remember.

It’s Brian Aster. I’ll have to say something.

Everyone knows what happened. We organized clothing drives, put out collection cans, and sent flowers and cards.

When Matty graduated from Mountain Ridge Academy, the fancy school I most definitely do not attend, Brian was a year below him. I don’t know Brian or his stepsisters, aside from seeing them around town.

I was mentally complaining about Sugar, Sugar closing earlier, because I’m the worst.

I have never spoken to Brian. Unless you count me ordering sticky buns every Saturday. And I’ve definitely never talked to anyone experiencing a tragedy. The options are limited and terrible: it gets better, everything happens for a reason, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Sometimes there isn’t an upside. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you maims you for life.

Brian has never spoken to me either. Unless you count him silently handing me every sticky bun they have with no judgment whatsoever. So it isn’t really fair when I don’t say anything nice, and instead snap, “You should watch where you’re going.”

One eyebrow lifts. “Sorry.”

Right… I crashed into him. But he was the one lurking over here in the shadows. I tuck a stray curl behind my ear for lack of something better to do, and it pops out anyway.

He bends to sweep up the phone and book I dropped during the crash.

Oh my God.

Both his eyebrows lift as he looks at the cover of A Vampire Felt Me Up Last Night, then back at me.

Obviously, I need to move across state lines. That is the only option at this point. “Thanks,” I say, snatching them out of his hands.

“So,” Brian says, as though nothing happened. “I was just at Hunt and Hike. Matt wanted me to tell you not to walk home alone. He had to stay late to finish up with a customer, but your sister is on her way and will meet you both here.”

I glance at Hunt and Hike two blocks down. “My family is terrified rapists or white supremacists will approach me in the night.”

Brian’s expression doesn’t change.

I didn’t really mean to insinuate he’s one or the other, but here we are.

He eyes me standing with my arms crossed. “According to Matt, you once went sledding on the mountain in a no-trespassing area,” he says casually. “A ranger on a snowmobile came by, but instead of running into the woods with the others, you dropped to the ground and pretended you were dead. As you don’t appear to be lying prone on the sidewalk, I assume you don’t feel threatened.”

“I don’t feel threatened,” I say, peeved Matty would tell anyone that story, much less Brian Aster. “Thanks for letting me know.” I slide down the wall under the café window where the sidewalk is dry. Instead of taking off, he sinks his long, lean form to the ground a few feet away.

Okay

In the silence, I drum my hands on my knees. “I don’t need you to wait here,” I blurt out. “I’m not helpless. My family is overprotective. I tried to become a runner a few years ago, but my mom made me wear glow-in-the-dark ceiling stars taped to my shirt until she could pick up a reflective vest. It was so embarrassing, I stopped running.”

Brian pins me with that direct stare. “I don’t think you’re helpless. Maybe I don’t have anywhere I need to be right now.”

“Okay.” I force my hands to stop their awkward rhythm. “I didn’t realize you and Matty were friends. Were you buying weed off him or something?”

He frowns. “Yeah, Spencer, because I do all my drug deals at Hunt and Hike.”

“I thought…” I sneak him a dubious glance. “I’m sorry, you don’t seem like you hunt. Or hike.”

“Maybe I hunt and hike all the time,” he says. “You don’t know me.”

He’s right. I know he’s a musician and people in town say he was a child prodigy. I know his father owned Sugar, Sugar. I know his parents died three months ago.

“I’m sorry,” I say again, softly.

“I don’t hunt or hike,” he admits.

I’m unable to make out his expression as he stares straight ahead.

Even in the dark, the fault-line ghosts are visible because of the rain. Wisps, translucent as heat waves, yet iridescent like floating gasoline, rise through the pavement unhindered. Rainbows made of smoke. Objectively, I can see they’re beautiful. I understand why the tourists come here.

The silence hovers around us like the humidity in the air. Thick, slightly uncomfortable.

His arms rest on his knees. A tattoo peeks out from his sleeve on the underside of his wrist where it meets his hand: f-holes like those on a violin. Faint oven burns dot both his hands. He used to work at Sugar, Sugar. With his dad.

Tourists think the remnants in Wellsie are proof magic never really left us. But if it is here, and the world is this hard, then it’s good for nothing.

“Um,” I try. “Are you… okay?”

He faces me with a closed expression, waiting for me to continue, but not in the normal way people wait, neither polite nor impatient. One shoulder inches toward his ear. Like he’s bracing himself.

Because he knows what I’m going to say next. It must have happened to him countless times in the last few months. Strangers talking to him for the first time, in the worst moment of his life.

He wants to talk about literally anything else.

“If you were a Guardian, what superpower would you want?” I blurt out, because it’s easy, not heavy, and something we’ve all thought about at some point. What if we had individual abilities, unique to us, the way they do? The way everyone did once. When magic was free.

His eyes close, lashes nearly kissing his cheekbones. He pauses for a long moment, his head resting back against the wall. “Is it weird to say I’ve never wanted one? That all I want out of life is to play violin and live in reasonable comfort?” He doesn’t wait for me to respond. “Or were you expecting me to say: the ability to bring people back from the dead?”

This didn’t go the way I planned. “No,” I say too quickly. “I expected… like… maybe you’d want the power to put pockets in all women’s clothing. Or the ability to turn horses into unicorns.”

“Unicorns are just horses with horns on their faces.”

“Right, they’re murder horses. Who wouldn’t want a murder horse?”

He says nothing, but one corner of his mouth lifts, so I know he’d want one if given the opportunity.

“Do you want a peanut butter cup?” I say.

His eyes are open again, treating me to a direct stare that makes me want to pull my hood up. But his shoulders relax. For the first time, I notice the blue-purple circles beneath his eyes. “Yeah, I’ll have one,” he says.

He waits silently while I dig a bag of peanut butter cups out of my raincoat pocket.

When I hand him a foil-wrapped chocolate, he doesn’t look like such a hard person—he looks like a dude holding a peanut butter cup. I wonder if he measures his eyelashes with a ruler so he can brag about them to everyone he knows.

He eats it while we wait, watching the rain hit the puddles in the street. The air is made of mist tonight, giving the streetlamps a soft, orb-like glow—the light doesn’t stream; it floats.

A couple minutes later, I place another one beside him. He eats that one too.

“What do you think of white chocolate?” I ask him.

“I think it’s not chocolate,” he says.

I take his hand and pour about six into his palm.

When Ella pulls up in her white jeep, honking five cheerful, jarring times and earning a glare from both of us, Brian pushes himself to his feet. He glances down at me and reaches out a hand, palm up. I stare at it, uncertain, and give him a low five.

He coughs, more like a rusty laugh, bending to take hold of my wrist and tug me to my feet in one easy motion.

Oh.

“Thanks,” I say, feeling ridiculous.

Though his hand falls away immediately, the heat of his grip lingers, fingerprints cooling in degrees. A shiver ripples between my shoulder blades, and I realize for the first time how chilly the night is.

He’s still standing there looking at me when Matty jogs up through the rain, slicking strands of wet multicolored hair back from his forehead. “Sorry, I got held up going through every single brand of camping stove. I’m one hundred percent sure Chester Graves is a doomsday prepper—he basically admitted he has a bunker in his backyard…” He pauses, his gaze darting to Brian, to me, then back to Brian. “Hey.”

Brian nods at him. “Hey.”

“Um, do you need a ride anywhere?” I ask Brian.

“No, I’m fine,” Brian says at the exact moment Matty says, “No, he’s fine.”

I blink at Matty and we have a silent yet easily readable why-are-you-like-this? conversation.

Unperturbed, Brian says, “I’ll see you later, man.” He gives me a brief nod and steps out from under the portico and into the rain.

“That was rude,” I tell Matty under my breath.

“You don’t need to be hanging out with him.”

As he’s never been that kind of older brother, I bristle. “Why?”

“He’s a good guy,” Matty says quickly, though something dark and foreign crosses his face. “But you don’t want any part of that situation.”

Before I can ask more, Matty tosses me a foil-wrapped cylinder I recognize instantly as my favorite burrito, otherwise known as the Mighty Bean, and then he’s three steps away, hauling open the car door, conversation over. It’s a classic diversion. 1) Make me catch something, instantly sending me into panic mode. 2) FOOD.

But as I watch Brian stride off down the street, his shoulders hunched, head bowed against the spray, I wonder what Matty meant.

About The Author

Photograph © Jared Graves

Robin Wasley is a young adult fantasy writer with a soft spot for orphans, found families, and funny girls with no special skills who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. She grew up in a family of adoptees, never truly seeing herself reflected in the books she devoured. As an adult, when she saw an Asian American girl on the cover of a YA book for the first time, she cried. Robin lives in Boston and works in scientific publishing, but she writes so readers can laugh, cry, and scream, “Why are you like this?”. Her favorite things are genre mashes, bubble baths, Cheetos, and pie. When not writing, she enjoys baking and binge-watching entire seasons of TV in a single day. Her one dream in life is to become best friends with BTS.

Why We Love It

“There is so much to love in this earnest, heartfelt, and hilarious book, from its tragically relatable main character to its warming themes of empathy, friendship, and family. Action-packed, genre-bending, and perfect for fans of the CW, you will break your heart crying and laugh it whole again. Dead Things Are Closer Than They Appear is the most fun I’ve had in ages.”

—Alyza L., Editor, on Dead Things Are Closer Than They Appear

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (February 13, 2024)
  • Length: 416 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665914604
  • Grades: 9 and up
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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Raves and Reviews

"Loaded with imaginative details, mean fluffy cats, and a heroine you'll have no problem rooting for, Robin Wasley's Dead Things Are Closer Than They Appear is the most fun you can have when trying to survive a magical hellscape. If you've ever watched a zombie apocalypse movie and thought, well, I'd just die instantly—read this and feel some hope."

Kendare Blake, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Three Dark Crowns

"The best novels make you care about the characters and I loved every single hero, sidekick, and cat in this wildly entertaining romp of a novel. Wickedly funny, but also filled with resonant themes of belonging and finding your place in the world. I didn’t want this book to end!"

Axie Oh, New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

"A fun romp full of charm and humor! The magic is in Sid Spencer's voice, proving this heroine is anything but ordinary."

Trang Thanh Tran, New York Times bestselling author of She Is a Haunting

"Full of effortless prose and sparkling wit, Dead Things Are Closer Than They Appear seamlessly meshes genuine horror and snappy banter to create a nonstop, propulsive read that had me both laughing out loud and gasping in astonishment."

Kelly Andrew, author of The Whispering Dark

"The tangled threads of complicated love—romantic, platonic, and familial—weave together riveting action and visceral stakes in this magical exploration of self-discovery. I loved this one!"

Beth Revis, New York Times bestselling author of Across the Universe

★ "This dark debut is a pitch-perfect balance of fantasy, horror, humor, and romance. The story is well paced, with action and suspense interspersed with quiet moments of raw emotion and human connection. The thoughtfully developed characters grapple with issues of race, insecurities, self-absorption, isolation, connection, family, loss, grief, and empathy.

A thrilling, moving, and fantastical apocalyptic novel that readers won’t want to put down."

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ "Debut author Robin Wasley blends elements of fantasy and horror to create a clever and exhilarating zombie apocalypse narrative in Dead Things Are Closer Than They Appear. Sid's distinct, snarky-yet-empathetic voice adds hilarity and humanity to the novel. Her desire for belonging—contextualized by her experience as a Korean adoptee of white parents and one of the only Asians in a predominantly white town—will resonate with many readers. Memorable supporting characters—including brooding musician Brian...mean girl with a heart of gold Eleni...and grouchy-yet-protective cat Chad—form an endearing found family. Fans of post-apocalyptic stories, urban fantasy, and ensemble casts should delight in this gripping novel."

Shelf Awareness, starred review

"Sid is immediately sympathetic as she describes what it is like to be one of the only Asian kids in a small town and how isolating that feels, particularly after her crush and best friend start dating each other and Sid responds by cutting both of them out of her life. Of course, murderous vigilantes, dangerous magic, and zombies can usually put even the most painful teen experiences into perspective, and Sid finds forgiveness for her friends, grace for herself, and a new appreciation for a world where magic is usually locked away. Thankfully, she loses none of her snark in this period of self-discovery, and her narration is sharp, witty, and memorable. The villain is monstrous, relentless, and brutal in his quest to take all the keys by killing all the Guardians, and Wasley contrasts his nightmarish determination to upend the world with Sid’s far less polished and planned, but equally determined, goal to save it. Readers will spot that Sid is wildly underestimating herself a couple hundred pages before she does, and part of the satisfaction of this novel is her realizing that heroics are a spectrum, and she is firmly on it."

– BCCB

"Wasley deftly juggles inventive worldbuilding with introspective ruminations on adoption, found family, and self-acceptance. A large and eclectic intersectionally diverse cast; fast-paced, brutal action; and thrilling reveals round out this genre-bending debut that is at once funny, terrifying, and heart-wrenching from start to finish."

Publishers Weekly

"A solid debut...engagingly clever."

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