It’s that time of year again. Everyone is going back to school and so is Nina Berry’s Ember from Otherkin.
Sixteen-year-old Desdemona Gray doesn’t even bother with crushes on cute boys now that she’s forced to wear a hard plastic back brace all day. What guy would want to literally have to knock on a girl to be let in? So she squashes down every impossible desire until an uber-awkward brush with a boy brings out all her frustration and she changes…into a tiger. In that bewildering moment, she is captured by Ximon, the leader of a fanatical group hell-bent on wiping out the five remaining tribes of shape-shifters, known as the otherkin.
With help from a handsome, mysterious fellow captive named Caleb, she escapes and goes on the run, finding allies and learning the truth behind the legends of wizards and were-creatures. Then Ximon goes too far, and Dez must tap into all her buried desires to find her inner tiger and save herself, her new friends, and the boy she loves.
Make sure you stick around to the end. We’ll be giving away a copy of Otherkin.
First Day at Loser Late-Blooming Shifter School
How’s this for the lamest first day of school homework ever? We’re writing letters… to ourselves. Morfael said something about encapsulating who we are now. Meaning, of course, that at the end of the year, after he’s made us better somehow, we can look back and realize how sucky we were. What’s next? Time capsules? Trust exercises?
Here’s the thing. I’m already fabulous. And no way this school is going to change me.
It took me and Dad hours to get here, to the middle of the woods. The other tribes like to live in more isolated spots, but not us rats. We like the cities! I miss Oakland already. Nothing but trees and grass and bugs up here in Coyote Peaks.
Speaking of bugs, the caller of shadow who runs this school, Morfael, is so tall and skinny, he reminds me of a praying mantis, only paler. Normally we shifters stay away from callers, since they can force us to shift. But Dad says Morfael’s skill is useful when teaching boneheads like me how to shift better.
Dad didn’t actually call me a bonehead. He would never do that. But that’s how I feel, being here. If I can’t pass the classes, if I can’t learn to shift at the drop of a hat, I’ll be branded a total loser. No self respecting rat-shifter will ever date me again. And there aren’t that many rat-boys to choose from! I had to dump Roger last week: cute but so dim. He’s basically the only hottie rat in the East Bay, so now what?
After I gave Dad a goodbye hug, I met the other kids in the school’s main building, which looks like it grew straight out of the ground, for our first lesson. This awkward guy with bad bangs named Arnaldo nodded hello. He seems shy and super geeky for an eagle-shifter, so I think I can intimidate him enough to keep him from chowing down on me when we’re in our animals forms.
The huge bear-shifter with the long shiny black hair (and nice wide shoulders), Siku, would’ve been almost attractive if he’d demonstrated any ability to speak. Not that I could ever date a bear. Dad would kill me.
And my cabin mate the wolf-shifter, (hope she doesn’t eat me in my sleep!) said her name was Laurentia or something.
So I said, all nice and smiling, “I should call you London, because of ‘Werewolves of London,’ right?”
But instead of seeing how a nickname is a thing friends give each other, she growled at me! She’s dyed her hair a bad color for her skin and wears fake piercings in her nose, so it’s not like we could ever be friends anyway, but I wasn’t being mean. London’s a much cooler name than some weird girly version of “Laurence.” Later on, Siku told me that wolf-shifters are sensitive about being likened to werewolves, but why should they care? Wolves have it easy compare to rats. Everyone thinks it’s cool to call us gross and slimy.
I though Morfael would be all controlling and use his evil ways to make us shift. Instead he was Mr. Quiet and Distant, and handed out a list of plants we had to find… out in the woods! WTF? He expected us to 1. know what the damned things looked like, and 2. grub around in the dirt to find them. Apparently there are plants that can help and hurt our ability to shift. But how the hell am I supposed to know what wolfsbane looks like? Say hello to my first failing grade.
Since bears don’t eat rats with the same relish that raptors and wolves do, I kind of shadowed Siku to the library, and when he had trouble seeing the books on the lower shelves (dude is TALL. I think he’s a grizzly), I offered to help.
He grunted out that he needed a book on botany. Hey, he could talk! And oh right – research! Smart boy. Sure enough, I found a book down near the floor called “Botany of the Southwest.”
We looked at the book together while he jotted down notes on his list of plants. I was too distracted by how nice and sweet he smelled – like pears and honey. I kind of pressed in close, just to, you know, entice him a little, maybe make him appreciate the goodies he’ll never have. He just frowned with those straight dark eyebrows and pulled away.
Which was weird. Isn’t that what men want? A hot body and someone who likes showing it off? That’s why my brothers always talk about with their girlfriends, and Roger never liked me for my brains. I’m not book-smart or “witty” or whatever, so how else am I going to get boys to pay attention?
Siku kept ignoring me as I followed him outside. I would’ve headed out on my own, but I still needed his help. He found something called St. John’s Wort, and I snagged a sample right after him. When he gave me a sideways look, I started babbling. I’m good at talking. I dissed Morfael’s all-black wardrobe and pretended to mistakenly call Siku “Teddy” and “Baloo” (from The Jungle Book). He grunted, but I couldn’t tell if he was angry or if that’s how he laughed, so I just kept chattering on, hoping he didn’t run off. Along the way we found some wild onions, berries (he at most of those) and hawthorn.
Then way up in the hawthorn tree I saw something that reminded me of one of the sketches in the botany book. It was different than the rest of the tree, with a waxy yellowy green stem and hard little berries coming out of a small branch way up high.
“Hey, umm…” I skipped to catch up with Siku and caught his arm.
“I’m not interested,” he said, pulling his arm away gently. “Not like that.”
I stopped skipping. “What?”
He turned to face me, a pained look on his face like he was picking his words carefully. “I like to be friends with a girl first. And I just met you.”
“Oh!” I think I actually blushed. Can’t remember the last time that happened. Boys aren’t usually that direct. “I’m not interested either, really.”
He pursed his lips, like he didn’t believe me. “Then why did you do that back there, in the library?”
I knew what he meant. I’d practically snuggled right up to him. I turned even redder, like one of those raspberries he’d eaten. No boy had ever talked to me like this. It was making me all fluttery inside. “I didn’t mean it really as a come on. That’s just… what I do. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Then why do it?” he asked.
I blanked out. “Wow. Good question.”
“You’re funny,” he said. “And you might be nice. I can’t tell. That other stuff is getting in the way. So stop it.”
“Okay,” I said. My voice was small. But a little smile was working at the corners of my mouth. “You think I’m funny?”
“Maybe.” He was smiling a little too. His gaze drifted up toward the top of the hawthorn tree. “Oh hey, mistletoe.”
“That’s why I stopped you!” I said, jumping and pointing up at it. “I thought it looked like something from that book.”
“Good eye, there, November.” He lumbered over to the tree. It creaked as he started to climb it. He was pretty dexterous given the width of his shoulders and all his bulging muscles, but he had to stop climbing as the branch he was on bent dangerously beneath him.
“My brothers call me ‘Ember,” I said. “Now get down from there and let me.”
“You?” As he climbed down, he gave my shiny boots and tight jeans a skeptical glance. “You’re little, but that branch is really small.”
“Watch and learn, big boy.”
I directed my attention down to where my heart beat inside me. I’d recently figured out that’s where the window to Othersphere was, the link to shadow that helped me shift. It was easier to find now that I knew to search for it with my nose. It smelled like my favorite thing in the world – candy. I found it pretty easily and hopped through.
Flash, bang, power, darkness, blah-dee-blah. All those things that come with shifiting. And there I was in my rat form, covered in a pile of skinny black jeans and my electric blue Anderson’s Pawn and Loan t-shirt.
I poked my nose out and saw Siku, looking eight hundred times larger than before. He was smiling down at me. “Never saw a rat shifter in their animal form before,” he said. “So glossy.”
I ran my paws down the sides of my sleek rat form. My fur is very soft and shiny. “I compliment you on being so observant,” I said.
He cocked his head. “I think you just chittered something nice, but I’m not sure.”
Oh right. Only other rats could understand me when I talked in my rat form. Which meant I could ask him, “Are you abs as cut as your shoulders seem to be?”
He looked puzzled, then held out a broad hand flat like a floor. “Are you asking for me to give you a lift up into the tree?”
He’d known I was asking a question, which was more than most people got from my rat chatter. I leaned forward and sniffed his hand. “You smell like soap and warm skin with just the faintest trace of raspberries.” I looked up at him, my stomach flutters getting worse.
“I know most of the time bears and rats don’t help each other out,” he said. “But I never understood why things were that way.”
“Stupid shifter politics,” I said, but still I held back. I’d never let anyone but a family member hold me when I was in my rat form.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said. “I could never do that.”
I stared up into his deepset brown eyes. They were not unkind, and I believed him. So I climbed onto his warm hand, and he lifted me carefully to place me on the highest branch he could reach. From there it was easy to scamper the rest of the way to the mistletoe. I broke off a couple of twigs and lobbed them down at him. He snagged them out of the air and put them in his plastic baggie. As I crept back down the swaying branches, he put both hands out to catch me.
I hopped onto them gratefully, and automatically walked up his arm to sit on his shoulder, they way I always did with my brothers. Siku’s shoulders were even wider and more comfortable. My tail swayed down his back in rhythm with his long black hair as he walked deeper into the woods.
And that’s how we aced the plant test today, me and Siku. I think that’s the first time I ever did so well. It’s not like going to this school will change me or anything, but I think maybe we’ll be friends. I’ve never been friends with a boy before. Who knows? I might do okay here, which would be a first.
But I’ll still be hot, funny, fabulous me.
Love and gummi bears,
Meet Nina Berry!
Nina Berry grew up bodysurfing in Hawaii, learned to throw snowballs at the University of Chicago, and now lives and works in Hollywood, pretending to lead the glamorous life. Along the way she got a screenplay optioned, wrote for a TV show called Ghost Stories, and has worked on shows like Married…With Children and That 70’s Show. Inspired by novels she loved as a teen, OTHERKIN is her debut YA paranormal. When not writing, Nina loves to travel, read, and tweet links about saving big cats in the wild. She’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
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Thank you Nina for taking part in Literary Escapism’s School’s in!
Nina is giving away a copy of Otherkin. To enter, all you have to do is answer this one question: If you had to write your high school self a letter, what would you say? Remember, you must answer the question in order to be entered. (US only)
Even though I’m not giving the additional entries any more, you can still help support the author by sharing their article, and this contest, on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere you can. After all, the more people who are aware of this fabulous author ensures we get more fabulous stories.
The winner must post a review of the novel someplace. Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just help get the word out.
All School’s In contests will remain open until October 7th at which time I’ll determine the winner with help from the snazzy new plug-in I have. Have you checked out the other Black Friday contests yet? Check out the Master List to see all the Black Friday giveaways
I have not been contacting winners, so you will need to check back to see if you’ve won.