A new Holly Black book is always cause for raucous celebration. And today sees the publication of her book The Darkest Part of the Forest, about a haunted forest, a boy in a glass coffin, and a monster that sounds like a woman weeping. And we've got an exclusive excerpt for you, right here!
Here's the official synopsis of The Darkest Part of the Forest:
Fairfold was a strange place. Dead in the center of the Carling forest, the haunted forest, full of what Hazel's grandfather called Greenies and what her mother called They Themselves or the Folk of the Air. In these woods, it wasn't odd to see a black hare swimming in the creek— although rabbits don't usually much care for swimming— or to spot a deer that became a sprinting girl in the blink of an eye. Every autumn, a portion of the harvest apples was left out for the cruel and capricious Alderking. Flower garlands were threaded for him every spring. Townsfolk knew to fear the monster coiled in the heart of the forest, who lured tourists with a cry that sounded like a woman weeping. Its fingers were sticks, its hair moss. It fed on sorrow and sowed corruption. You could lure it out with a singsong chant, the kind girls dare one another to say at birthday sleepovers. Plus there was a hawthorn tree in a ring of stones where you could bargain for your heart's desire by tying a strip of your clothing to the branches under a full moon and waiting for one of the Folk to come. The year before, Jenny Eichmann had gone out there and wished herself into Princeton, promising to pay anything the faeries wanted. She'd gotten in, too, but her mother had a stroke and died the same day the letter came.
Which was why, between the wishes and the horned boy and the odd sightings, even though Fairfold was so tiny that the kids in kindergarten went to school in an adjacent building to the seniors, and that you had to go three towns over to buy a new washing machine or stroll through a mall, the town still got plenty of tourists. Other places had the biggest ball of twine or a very large wheel of cheese or a chair big enough for a giant. They had scenic waterfalls or shimmering caves full of jagged stalactites or bats that slept beneath a bridge. Fairfold had the boy in the glass coffin. Fairfold had the Folk.
And here's an exclusive excerpt, dealing with a changeling named Jack:
Changelings are fish you're supposed to throw back. A cuckoo raised by sparrows. They don't quite fit anywhere.
Jack grew up knowing he was strange, without, at first, knowing why. He wasn't adopted—he could see that. He looked just like his brother, Carter. He had the same dark skin as his mother and the same tight brown curls and the same slightly-too-long first toes. But something was wrong. He might have his father's amber eyes and his father's chin, but that didn't seem to stop Dad from glancing at him with a worried, nervous expression, an expression that said, You're not what you seem.
His mother rubbed him with coconut oil after his bath and sang him songs. His grandmother held him and told him stories.
There was a village near the Ibo River, one story began, a story passed down to his grandmother from her Yoruban ancestors. In it, a woman named Bola had a son who grew too large to carry on her back to the market, so Bola waited until he was sleeping and went without him, latching the door behind her. When she returned, he was still asleep, but all the food in the house was gone.
She wondered whether someone could have snuck into the house. But the door had not been forced and nothing but the food was missing.
Soon after, a neighbor came to Bola and asked her to repay a string of cowrie shells. Bola hadn't borrowed money from her neigh- bor and told her as much. But the woman insisted, explaining that Bola's son had come to her house, saying that he was on an errand for his mother, who needed the cowries to buy more food.
Bola shook her head and brought the neighbor into her house. The child was napping on a woven mat.
"See," she said. "My baby is very little, far too small to walk and talk. How could he have come to your door? How could he have asked to borrow cowries?"
The neighbor stared in confusion. She explained that the boy who'd come to her door looked much like the sleeping child, but was far older. When Bola heard this, she became greatly distressed. She didn't doubt her neighbor and believed that her child must have been possessed by an evil spirit. When Bola's husband came home that night, she told him everything, and he became troubled as well.
Together, they made a plan. Her husband hid himself in the house while Bola went to the market, leaving the baby sleeping behind a latched door, just as before. Her husband watched as the child stood, his body stretching as he grew to the size of a ten-year- old. Then he began eating. He ate yams, locust beans, ripe mangos, pawpaw, and savory plantains, washing it all down with water from a calabash. He ate and ate and ate.
Finally, his father, recovering from the shock of what he'd witnessed, stepped from his hiding place and called the child's name. At the sound of his father's voice, the boy shrank down to a baby again. In this way, Bola and her husband determined that their child was, indeed, possessed by a spirit. They beat the child with rushes to drive the spirit out. Finally, it fled, leaving them with their own sweet baby again.
Jack hated that story, but it didn't stop his grandmother from telling it.
Years later, when Jack heard how he had come to be part of the family, he remembered the folktale and understood the reason his father looked at him the way he did. He was neither his father's son nor his mother's nor chosen by the family; he'd been foisted on them. He was wearing borrowed skin, watching them with borrowed eyes, and living with them in the life he'd almost stolen from Carter.
And, like Bola's child, Jack was always hungry. He ate and ate and ate, fresh cheese and loaves of bread, jars of peanut butter and gallons of milk. Sometimes, when one of his parents took him to the grocery store, he would swallow a dozen eggs behind a turned back. They would slide down his throat, shells and all, filling up the aching emptiness inside him. He picked sour apples off the summer trees and gulped down cotton balls soaked in water when he was too embarrassed to ask for a fifth helping of dinner.