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Secret of the Storm

About The Book

Seekers of the Wild Realm meets My Diary from the Edge of the World in this poignant and “action-packed” (School Library Journal) story of a lonely girl who befriends a kitten that might be much more—the first in a new series from author of Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls, Beth McMullen!

Twelve-year-old Cassie King’s father always told her the universe was on her side. All she had to do was work hard and things would go her way. But then Cassie’s father died, her mom retreated into herself, and her best friend traded her in for the popular crowd at school. The only thing Cassie still has is the volunteer work she does at the local library, a place where she can leave her troubles behind. Unfortunately, classmate and school outcast Joe Robinson is always there doing the same thing.

One day, while Cassie and Joe are leaving the library, a bizarre storm hits, trapping them in a narrow alley. In the storm’s aftermath, Cassie discovers a bedraggled little kitten abandoned in a smelly dumpster. Cassie feels an immediate connection to the kitten and takes him home.

But the kitten—who Cassie names Albert—is a little odd, with impossible strength and agility for a creature his size. At one point, Cassie swears she sees plumes of smoke rising from his water bowl, and one afternoon, while Albert is alone in her room, a strange symbol appears on the closet door. With new friend Joe’s help, Cassie figures out the symbol is a map. But a map to what?

The friends soon discover that Albert is much more than he appears and is in grave danger. He needs Cassie’s help in ways she never could have imagined. Keeping him safe is the first thing Cassie has believed in for a long time. But is she strong enough to face down a sinister enemy moving ever closer and protect everything she loves?

Excerpt

Chapter 1: How It Begins Chapter 1 HOW IT BEGINS
THE WIDE HALLWAYS of Washington Middle School are no joke. Lives are made in these hallways, or ruined. Last week, for example, someone smeared superglue on Trevor Addison’s locker handle, and he was stuck fast. The janitor showed up with a blowtorch. Things quickly got out of hand.

My best friend, Mia Wilson, said Trevor probably deserved it, which I definitely didn’t agree with, because no one deserves to be superglued to a locker, but I kept that opinion to myself. Lately, Mia finds everything I say exasperating or wrong, even something as straight up as “good morning.” We once promised to be best friends forever, but I’m starting to think she’s had a change of heart.

Usually, we meet on the sidewalk outside of school and walk home together, but the last few days she’s left without me. She says I’m too slow getting out of school and she needs to get home and change for soccer practice. Sure, sometimes I’m late because Mrs. Holmes, my science teacher, wants to talk about a new recycling strategy they are using successfully in Australia or wherever, and I have to stay for that conversation because saving the planet is important. I mean, without it we are in serious trouble. Plus, I like Mrs. Holmes. She encourages me to share my ideas, but mostly I don’t because even if I have the perfect answer in my head, I’m not that good at actually saying it out loud. It always comes out sounding weird. Or wrong. Or not what I meant.

But today is different. Determined not to let Mia down, I plan to get myself to the sidewalk exactly on time, no matter what. My dad once told me the universe was on my side. All I had to do was try hard and I could make things happen.

“You just can’t quit, Cassie,” he said. “The universe doesn’t like quitters.”

When the final bell of the day rings, students spill from classrooms like a great surge of water bursting through a dam. I avoid eye contact with Mrs. Holmes, slipping out with the rush. I race to my locker and check for glue. All clear. And the locker doesn’t even jam when I try to open it. This is a good omen. Things are looking up. Right? Stuffing my books into my backpack, I bolt for the exit without even zipping the bag. I’m pretty sure my math textbook falls out, but I don’t stop. I’m on a mission. The universe doesn’t like quitters.

Outside, a cold Lewiston wind whips the fog into little cyclones that swirl and eddy like ballet dancers. Lewiston is not what people think of when they think of California. There are no palm trees, no movie stars, no sun-drenched beaches dotted with surfers looking to catch the next perfect wave.

Squished between dense mountains and a craggy ocean shoreline, basically in the middle of nowhere, Lewiston is a university town so far up the California coast that we might as well be in Oregon. Even super-boring Sacramento is hundreds of miles away. It rains constantly, and when it’s not raining, it’s foggy, and when it’s not foggy, it’s just plain gray. On the rare occasion when the sun does come out, Lewiston sparkles like the Emerald City, with trees a hundred shades of green coming right to the edge of an endless blue sea. But it never lasts, the sun, and those moments only remind us of what we are missing.

More importantly, nothing interesting ever happens in Lewiston. Like, ever. If you look up “boring” in the dictionary, there will be a picture of Lewiston.

Strands of brown frizzy hair cling to my eyelashes, blinding me. I clear the hair just in time to see Mia glide out of school, surrounded by the Popular Posse, girls who last year did not know she existed. She wears a new down jacket, the color of a pineapple, that I have never seen before. The Popular Posse moves in a tight bunch, like an amoeba, giggling and whispering and oozing confidence all over everything. I shelter behind a row of pines and try to pull my tangled mess of hair into a ponytail. If I look like I just got electrocuted, Mia will say something snarky about the frizz or my uniform of leggings and hoodies, and that tight, uncomfortable feeling in my stomach will show up and stay for the rest of the day. The girls drift toward me, chattering like monkeys, and I’m about to step out and wave when I hear my name. There is something in the tone that stops me fast.

“Cassie Jones,” says Sadie, a girl with sleek black hair where no strand would dare be out of place. “I mean, why? Does she even ever speak?”

“Seriously,” concurs Lila, brand-new phone tucked casually into the pocket of her shredded skinny jeans. “She’s the opposite of fun.”

“And her clothes?” adds Ruth, puckering up a questioning, lip-glossy pout. “I mean, tall and dorky is not a good look. Target would be an upgrade.”

My heart snaps against my ribs. I can’t catch my breath. Surely, Mia will defend me. She’ll set them straight, tell them we shouldn’t judge someone’s worth based on appearance, and we’ll walk home together, and everything will be fine. Everything will be like it’s always been. Right?

“I firmly believe things happen for a reason,” Mia explains seriously to her new friends. “Obviously, Cassie’s situation was meant to get me to reexamine who I was spending my time with.”

There are murmured agreements. Well, of course, obviously.

My cheeks burn with shame as I attempt to disappear into the trees. And really, what Dad said about trying hard isn’t true. The universe doesn’t care if I quit. It is a cold, empty, bleak place, and it doesn’t care about me at all. If I fade to nothing, it will not notice.

Keeping my head down, I slink away, vanishing among the groups of friends, all laughing and going places and having fun. The wind is blowing so hard my eyes water.

But I’m not crying.

About The Author

Photograph by Megan Wilkinson

Beth McMullen is the author of the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls series; the Lola Benko, Treasure Hunter series; the Secret of the Storm series; and several adult mysteries. Her books have heroes and bad guys, action and messy situations. An avid reader, she once missed her subway stop and rode the train all the way to Brooklyn because the book she was reading was that good. She lives in northern California with her family and two cats. Visit her at BethMcMullenBooks.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Aladdin (March 1, 2022)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534482852
  • Grades: 4 - 8
  • Ages: 9 - 13
  • Fountas & Pinnell™ W These books have been officially leveled by using the F&P Text Level Gradient™ Leveling System

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Raves and Reviews

What do black holes, the FBI, and a kitten that smells like burned plastic have in common?

They are part of the mystery middle schooler Cassie Jones and fellow public library volunteer Joe Robinson are trying to solve. In the boring town of Lewiston, California, Cassie and Joe find a miraculously unharmed black kitten in a dumpster that was struck by lightning during a freak storm. The fire-prone kitten becomes Cassie’s loyal companion as she navigates grief over her father’s death a year earlier, her mother’s overwhelming anxiety, and the bullying she receives from peers—and even at the hands of her best friend, Mia Wilson. Central to the mystery are a rainbow-haired librarian with a notebook of secrets and a professor who rants about the existence of dragons. While experienced readers may anticipate some of the reveals, there is plenty of action to keep them invested. Balancing the serious notes are the feel-good elements in this story of a girl who finds courage and true friendship after great loss. The first book in a new series, it ends with a twist that will have readers eagerly awaiting the sequel. Most characters default to White; Joe has brown skin.

Fans of fantasy adventures will find a lot to love. (Fantasy. 8-12)

– Kirkus Review STARRED REVIEW, 11/01/2021

A year after her father’s sudden death, 12-year-old Cassie’s life is unraveling. At home, her mother has withdrawn from the challenges of parenthood. And at school, when Cassie’s only friend starts hanging out with “the popular posse,” she has no one even to sit with at lunch. Enter Joe, the nerdiest kid in her class, offering friendship, if she has the courage to accept it. Thrown together during a weirdly localized, supernaturally violent storm, they find a kitten in a dumpster, and Cassie takes it home. As she and Joe try to solve a decades-old mystery related to supernatural storms in the past, they come to accept that the kitten is not what it seems, but a legendary creature from another dimension. Details of middle-school life and worries at home keep Cassie’s first-person narrative grounded in reality, making the vividly described fantasy elements easier to accept when they arise. From the writer of Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls (2017) and its sequels, this well-paced, enjoyable novel is the first volume in a promising fantasy adventure series.

— Carolyn Phelan

– Booklist, 2/15/22

Twelve-year-old Cassie Jones has had a hard year; her father was killed in a car accident. The pain of that moment is a constant in Cassie’s life, and her mother now spends her days sleeping and taking pills to cope. Her best friend, Mia, has become popular and distances herself, making Cassie feel lonelier than ever. Things take an unexpected turn when Cassie and fellow library volunteer Joe get caught in a sudden storm. As it subsides, Cassie and Joe emerge only to hear the soft mews of a kitten, who they name Albert. Something isn’t right about this cat, though. Unexplained things keep happening; random items start burning and there are more sudden storms. As the two attempt to learn more about Albert, they find out that there are others looking for him. Cassie and Joe need to figure out what Albert is and how to help him before it is too late, and the cliffhanger ending ­alludes to a sequel. Joe is the only person of color explicitly described. VERDICT A quick, action-packed read perfect for fans of ­animal, fantasy, and mystery tales.–Katie Llera

– School Library Journal, 3/1/22

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