Dark stories for children and young adults are nothing new. Holly Black, however, writes stories like Doll Bones for middle-grade readers and Tithe for young adults in which that darkness has sharp edges and real consequences.
Once, when Nadia had a different name and lived in a small town outside of Toronto, she’d been a different girl. She took ballet and jazz dancing. She had a little brother who was always reading her diary. Then one day on her way home from school, a man asked her to help him find his dog. He had a leash and a van and everything.
He ate part of her leg and stomach before anyone found them.
When she woke up in the hospital, she remembered the way he’d caught her with his snout pinning her neck, the weight of his paws. She looked down at her unscarred skin and stretched her arms, ripping the IV needle out without meaning to.
She left home after she tried to turn her three best friends into werewolves too. It didn’t work. They screamed and bled. One of them died.
“Nadia,” Rhonda is saying.
Nadia shakes off all her thoughts like a wet dog shaking itself dry.
The casting director is motioning to her. “We’d like to see you again,” the woman with the necklaces says.
“Her?” Rhonda asks.
When Nadia goes back on stage, they tell her she has the part.
“Oh,” says Nadia. She’s too stunned to do more than take the packet of information on rehearsal times and tax forms. She forgets to ask them which part she got.
That night Rhonda and Grace insist on celebrating. They get a bottle of cheap champagne and drink it in the back of the restaurant with the cook and two of the dishwashers. Everyone congratulates Nadia and Rhonda keeps telling stories about clueless things that Nadia did on other auditions and how it’s a good thing that the casting people only wanted Nadia to dance because she can’t act her way out of a paper bag.
Nadia says that no one can act their way out of a paper bag. You can only rip your way out of one. That makes everyone laugh and—Rhonda says—is a perfect example of how clueless Nadia can be.
“You must have done really well in that final jump,” Rhonda says. “Were you a gymnast or something? How close did you get?”
“Close to what?” Nadia asks.
Rhonda laughs and takes another swig out of the champagne bottle. “Well, you couldn’t have made it. No human being could jump that far without a pole vault.”
Nadia’s skin itches.