Sixteen-year-old Lana Morris wishes her life were different, that she were somewhere else, someone else. Her foster mother wants her gone, she's stuck taking care of the other kids in the house, she longs to become closer to her foster father, and the only cool people around refuse to acknowledge her. Then Lana stumbles into Miss Hekkity's mysterious shop, and she begins to realize that she might actually have the power to change things-to make some of her wishes come true. But wishing isn't always as harmless as it seems. . . . Award-winning authors Laura and Tom McNeal weave a warmhearted and suspenseful story about the power-and danger-of a wish. From the Hardcover edition.
This latest offering from the husband-and-wife team (Zipped) brims with affecting characters and an eerie plotline, colored by elements of the supernatural. Sixteen years old, headstrong and without parents, Lana Morris finds herself in a foster home full of "Snicks" (special needs kids) who are tenderly portrayed with a multitude of quirks. Their foster mother, Veronica, is hostile toward Lana, however, because Lana has a crush on Veronica's compassionate husband, Whit. In several disconcertingly romantic scenes, Whit takes advantage of Lana's misplaced affections in the interest of, in his words, "decoding" her. One of Lana's few lifelines to the outside world is Chet, her sympathetic neighbor. Lana hopes to break into his social circle of outcasts, riding in the trunk of their car to escape her routine. During one outing, Lana buys a box of paper that she comes to believe is the canvas on which she can redraw her life-a liberating idea. When Lana sketches a portrait of Veronica, her foster mother demands she erase it. Lana only gets as far as erasing one of Veronica's arms-the very arm Veronica loses soon after in a traffic accident. The sense of power Lana experiences through her sketches escalates-as do the results, which quickly spin out of control. Lana emerges as a fullyformed heroine; while some of the choices she makes may frustrate readers, her generosity and compassion for the "Snicks" should win her many fans. Ages 12-up. (May)
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Knopf Books for Young Readers
December 24, 2008
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Excerpt from The Decoding of Lana Morris by Laura McNeal
CHAPTER ONE Nebraska, June, the sky white with heat. The dust devil begins with a pocket of unstable air where a farmer’s field of irrigated beans meets the heated asphalt of Highway 20, sending up a sudden rush of warm air that swirls and stretches higher, increasing speed. The twisting funnel of dirt and debris moves east through fields of alfalfa and wheat and corn toward the town of Two Rivers, where, in a two-storied foster home, a girl named Lana Morris lives. Lana is sixteen and slim, with watchful dark eyes, brown hair that falls in straight lines down her long back, and a slot between her two front teeth that was once called her most charming feature by one of the least reliable in her mother’s long line of unreliable boyfriends. He said she was pretty, too, but the truth is Lana doesn’t think anything about herself is charming or pretty, only that the slot between her front teeth is the exact thickness of a dime, something she learned by trial and error. Slipped into the crease behind Lana’s left ear, where some people might store a pencil or even a cigarette, you will normally find a tightly rolled two-dollar bill. With use and with time, this bill has been worn soft as cloth. Lana believes the bill was left to her by her father, believes that by unrolling it and holding it flat in her hand, she can sometimes feel the presence of the person he must have been. Lana has always believed in things. Fortune cookies. Horoscopes. That one of these days her mother (whereabouts unknown) would stop drinking, get a steady job, and buy them a little house somewhere. That her father, before he died, was nicer and less foolish than people said he was. Lana stares down at her open hand with mild surprise. A minute before, she’d been drawing on a yellow legal pad, and now, without remembering doing it, she’s smoothing the two-dollar bill across the flat of her palm. Lana rolls and fastens the bill, then tucks it behind her ear. Today will be okay, she thinks, if I can just get out of the house. Always a big if. It’s Saturday morning, for one thing. School is out for the summer. Whit Winters, her foster father, is upstairs asleep. His wife, Veronica, is in the backyard hanging sheets. Lana makes a point of being where Veronica isn’t, so she’s sneaked out to the front porch and sits sketching on a yellow legal tablet and eating Froot Loops from a box with a foster girl named Tilly, who is also sixteen. With her curly brown hair, green eyes, and round body, Tilly looks almost normal, but she isn’t. “Look, Lana!” Tilly says, and Lana looks. Tilly holds open her pudgy hand to display a dozen or so Froot Loops, all pink. “Look! Look!” “Pink is definitely your favorite,” Lana says. Tilly says seriously, “Pinkies are better than yellows, Lana. You bet.” They both fall quiet in the thick heat. Lana goes back to sketching Whit Winters’s face from memory. She can do his wavy hair, and she’s never had trouble with his eyes, but there’s something wrong with the chin, and if the chin’s wrong, everything’s wrong. He looks sharp and bony instead of smooth and boyish. She erases quickly, whisks the pink rubbery dust away with the side of her hand, and starts again. Cicadas are whirring in the cottonwood, and a crow descends on the front lawn. Lana, lost again in her drawing, presumes this is a Saturday morning like any other Saturday morning, but in this she is wrong.