About the Book

Avalon High seems like a typical high school, attended by typical students: There’s Lance, the jock. Jennifer, the cheerleader. And Will, senior class president, quarterback, and all-around good guy.

But not everybody at Avalon High is who they appear to be…not even, as new student Ellie is about to discover, herself. What part does she play in the drama that is unfolding? What if the bizarre chain of events and coincidences she has pieced together means—as with the court of King Arthur—tragedy is fast approaching Avalon High?

Worst of all, what if there’s nothing she can do about it?

Awards

  • 4-week run in #3 spot on the New York Times Children's Chapter Books Best Sellers List
  • A Publishers Weekly Best Seller
  • Selected by the New York Public Library as a 2007 "Book for the Teen Age"
  • Named to the 2007 Texas Lone Star Reading List
  • Nominated for the 2007 ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers List
  • Nominated for the Kentucky Bluegrass Award
  • Nominated for the 2010 Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award
  • Nominated by YALSA as a 2010 Popular Paperback in "Twists on a Tale" category

Publication Information

  • HarperCollins (US), published January 2006
    (Trade paperback edition published July 2007)
  • Brazil: Distribuidora Record
  • France: Hachette Jeunesse
  • Germany: Blanvalet
  • Hebrew: Miskal Publishers
  • Hungary: Cicero
  • Indonesia: PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama
  • Italy: Fabbri/Rizzoli
  • Japan: Riron-sha
  • Poland: Amber Publishing
  • Russia: AST
  • Sweden: Tiden
  • Thailand: Physics Center
  • United Kingdom: Macmillan, published in January 2006

Reviews

“The author weaves together fantasy, romance, and history. Well done with good characters and a good dose of style. It will fly off the shelves.”
—SLJ

“Readers will thoroughly enjoy the twists and turns of the story.”
—The Horn Book

“The prose and story gallop along with a style that will easily appeal to fans of fantasy and realistic fiction alike. Very nicely done.”
—Kirkus Reviews

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers
“’Tis the fairy Lady of Shalott.”


“You are so lucky.”

Trust my best friend Nancy to see things that way. Nancy is what you would call an optimist.

Not that I’m a pessimist, or anything. I’m just . . . practical. At least according to Nancy. Apparently, I’m also lucky.

“Lucky?” I echoed into the phone. “In what way am I lucky?”

“Oh, you know,” Nancy said. “You get to start over. In a whole new school. Where no one knows you. You can be whoever you want to be. You can give yourself a total personality makeover, and there won’t be anyone around to be all, ‘Who do you think you’re kidding, Ellie Harrison? I remember when you ate paste in first grade.’ ”

“I never thought of it that way,” I said. Because I hadn’t. “Anyway, you were the one who ate paste.”

“You know what I mean.” Nancy sighed. “Well. Good luck. With school and everything.”

“Yeah,” I said, sensing even over the thousand-mile difference between us, that, it was time to hang up. “Bye.”

“Bye,” Nancy said. Then added, “You’re so lucky.”

Really, up until Nancy said this, I hadn’t thought there was anything lucky about my situation at all. Except maybe the fact that there’s a pool in the backyard of our new house. We never had a pool of our own. Before, if Nancy and I wanted to go to the pool, we had to get on our bikes and ride five miles—mostly uphill—to Como Park.

I have to say, when my parents broke the news about the sabbatical, the fact that they were quick to add, “And we’re renting a house with a pool!” was the only thing that kept down the vomit that started coming up in my throat. If you are a child of professors, sabbatical is probably about the dirtiest word in your own personal vocabulary. Every seven years, most professors get offered one—basically a yearlong vacation, so they can recharge and try to write and publish a book.

Professors love sabbaticals.

Their kids hate them.

Because would you really want to uproot and leave all your friends, make all new friends at a whole new school and just be getting to think, “Okay, this isn’t so bad,” only to have to uproot yourself again a year later and go back where you came from?

No. Not if you’re sane, anyway.

At least this sabbatical isn’t as bad as the last one, which was in Germany. Not that there’s anything wrong with Germany. I still exchange e-mails with Anne-Katrin, the girl I shared a desk with in the weird German school I went to there.

But come on. I had to learn a whole other language!

At least with this one, we’re still in America. And okay, we’re outside Washington, D.C., which isn’t like the rest of America. But everyone here speaks English. So far. And there’s a pool.

Having your own pool is a lot of responsibility, it turns out. I mean, every morning you have to check the filters and make sure they aren’t all jammed up with leaves or dead moles. There’s almost always a frog or two in ours. Usually, if I get out there early enough, they’re still alive. So then I have to conduct a frog rescue expedition.

The only way you can rescue the frogs is to reach down into the water to pull the filter basket out, so I’ve ended up touching all sorts of really gross stuff that floats in there, like dead beetles and newts and, a few times, drowned mice. Once there was a snake. It was still alive. I pretty much draw the line at touching anything that is capable of sending paralyzing streams of poison into my veins, so I yelled to my parents that there was a snake in the filter basket.

My dad is the one who yelled back, “So? What do you want me to do about it?”

“Get it out,” I said.

“No way,” my dad said. “I’m not touching any snake.”

My parents aren’t like other parents. For one thing, other people’s parents actually leave the house to go to work. Some of them are gone for as many as forty-five hours a week, I’ve heard.

Not mine. Mine are home all the time. They never leave! They’re always in their at-home offices, writing or reading. Practically the only time they come out of their offices is to watch Jeopardy! and then they yell out the answers at each other.

No one else’s parents know all the answers to Jeopardy! or yell them out if they do. I know, I’ve been to Nancy’s house and seen the evidence for myself. Her parents watch Entertainment Tonight after dinner, like normal people.

I don’t know any of the answers on Jeopardy! That’s why I sort of hate that show.

My dad grew up in the Bronx, where there aren’t any snakes. He completely hates nature. He totally ignores our cat, Tig. Which of course means that Tig is crazy about him.

And if my dad sees a spider, he screams like a girl. Then my mom, who grew up on a ranch in Montana and has no patience for spiders or my dad’s screaming, will come in and kill it, even though I’ve told her a million times that spiders are extremely beneficial to the environment.

Of course, I knew better than to tell my mom about the snake in the pool filter, because she’d probably have come out and snapped its head clean off right in front of me. In the end, I found a forked branch, and pulled it out that way. I let it go in the woodsy area behind the house we’re renting. Even though the snake didn’t turn out to be that scary once I finally got the guts to save it, I kind of hope it doesn’t come back.

There’s other stuff you have to do if you have your own pool, besides clean out the filter baskets. You have to vacuum the pool floor—this is kind of fun—and you have to test the water all the time, for chlorine and pH. I like testing the water. I do it a few times a day. You put the water in these little test tubes, and then add a couple drops of this stuff, and then if the water in the test tubes turns the wrong color, you have to drop some powder into the filter baskets. It’s a lot like chemistry, only better, because when you’re done, instead of a stinky mess like the kind I always ended up with last year in chem class, you get beautiful clear blue water.

I spent most of the summer that we moved to Annapolis messing around with the pool. I say “messing around with.” My brother Geoff—he left for his first year of college the second week in August—put it a different way. He said I was “acting like a freak about it.”

“Ellie,” he said to me so many times I lost count, “relax. You don’t need to be doing this. We’ve got a contract with a pool company. They come every week. Let them do it.” But the pool guy doesn’t really care about the pool. I mean, he’s just doing it for the money. He doesn’t see the beauty of it. I’m pretty sure.

But I guess I can see where Geoff was coming from. I mean, the pool did sort of start taking up a lot of my time. When I wasn’t cleaning it, I was floating on top of the water, on one of these inflatable rafts I made my mom and dad buy for us over at the Wawa. That’s the name of the gas stations here in Maryland. Wawas. They don’t have any Wawas back home in Minnesota. Just, like, Mobils and Exxons or whatever.

Anyway, we filled them up at the Wawa, too—the rafts—with the air hose meant for people to use on their tires, even though you aren’t supposed to use an air hose to fill a raft. It says so right on the raft.

But when Geoff pointed this out to my dad, he just went, “Who cares?” and filled them up anyway.

And nothing bad happened.

I tried to keep the same routine going for the whole summer. Every day I got up and put on my bikini. Then I grabbed a Nutri-Grain bar and headed down to the pool to check the filter baskets for frogs or whatever. Then when the pool was all clean, I got onto one of the rafts with a book and started floating.

By the time Geoff left for school, I was so good at floating that I could do it without even getting my hair wet or anything. I could go all morning without a break, right up until my mom or dad would come out onto the deck and say, “Lunch.”

Then I’d go inside and Mom and Dad and I would have peanut butter and jelly, if I was the one cooking that day, or ribs from Red Hot and Blue down the road if it was one of my parents’ turn, on account of them both being too busy writing books to cook.

Then I’d go back out to the pool until my mom or dad came out and said, “Dinner.”

I didn’t think this was a bad way to pass the last few weeks of summer.

But my mom did.

I don’t know why she had to go and make it her business how I spend my time. I mean, she’s the one who let Dad drag us out here in the first place, on account of the book he’s researching. She could have written her own book—on my namesake, Elaine of Astolat, the Lady of Shalott—back home in St. Paul.

Oh yeah. That’s the other thing about having professors as parents: They name you after totally random authors—like poor Geoff, after Geoffrey Chaucer—or characters from literature, such as the Lady of Shalott, aka Lady Elaine, who killed herself because Sir Lancelot liked Queen Guinevere—you know, the one Keira Knightley played in that King Arthur movie—better than he liked her.

I don’t care how beautiful the poem is about her. It’s not exactly cool to be named after someone who killed herself over a guy. I have mentioned this several times to my parents, but they still don’t get it.

The name thing’s not the only thing they don’t get, either.

“Don’t you want to go to the mall?” my mom started asking me every single day, before I could escape to the pool. “Don’t you want to go to the movies?”

But now that Geoff had left for college, I had no one to go to the mall or the movies with—no one except my parents. And no way was I going with them. Been there, done that. Nothing like going to the movies with two people who have to dissect the film to within an inch of its life. I mean, it’s Vin Diesel, okay? What do they expect?

“School’s going to start soon enough,” I’d say to my mom. “Why can’t I just float until then?”

“Because it’s not normal,” my mom would say, when I’d ask her this.

To which I would reply, “Oh, and you would know what normal is,” because, let’s face it, she and my dad are both freaks.

But she wouldn’t even get mad. She’d just shake her head and say, “I know what normal behavior for a teenage girl is. And floating in that pool by yourself all day is not it.”

I thought this was unnecessarily harsh. There’s nothing wrong with floating. It’s actually pretty fun. You can lie there and read, or, if your book gets boring or you finish it and are too lazy to go inside and get a new one or whatever, you can watch the way the sunlight reflects off the water onto the backs of the leaves of the trees above you. And you can listen to the birds and cicadas and, off in the distance, the rat-tat-boom of gunnery practice down at the Naval Academy.

We saw them, sometimes. The middies, I mean, or “midshipmen” as they preferred to be called, the student officers. In their spotless white uniforms, walking in pairs downtown, whenever my parents and I went to buy a new book for me to read and coffee for them at Hard Bean Coffee and Booksellers. My dad would point and say, “Look, Ellie. Sailors.” Which isn’t that weird, really. I guess he was trying to make girl talk. You know, because I can’t get any of that from my mom, the spider killer.

I guess I was supposed to think the middies were cute, or something. But I wasn’t going to talk about cute guys with my dad. I mean, I appreciated the effort, and all, but in a way it was just as bad as Mom’s “Why don’t you let me take you to the mall?” thing.

And it’s not like my dad spent his days doing anything all that exciting. The book he’s writing is even worse than Mom’s, on the boredom barometer. Because his is about a sword. A sword! It isn’t even a pretty sword, with jewels or gold or anything. It’s all old and has these rust spots and isn’t worth a dime. I know because the National Gallery over in D.C. let my dad bring it home so he could study it closer. That’s why we moved here . . . so he can look at this sword up close. It’s sitting in his office—well, the office of the professor whose house we’re renting while he’s in England on his own sabbatical, probably studying something even more worthless than Dad’s sword.

Museums let you borrow stuff and bring it home if it’s of academic interest (in other words, not worth anything) and if you’re a professor.

I don’t know why my parents had to choose medieval times as their field of study. It’s the most boring era of all, except possibly prehistoric times. I know I’m in the minority in thinking this, but that’s because most people have this really messed up idea about what things were like in the Middle Ages. Most people think it was like what they show in the movies and on TV. You know, women floating around in pointy hats and pretty dresses saying “thee” and “thou,” and knights thundering up to save the day.

But when your parents are medievalists, you learn at a pretty early age that things weren’t like that at all. The truth is, everyone back in the Middle Ages had totally bad B.O. and no teeth and died of old age at, like, twenty, and the women were all oppressed and had to marry people they didn’t even like and everybody blamed them for every little thing that went wrong.

I mean, look at Guinevere. Everyone thinks it’s all her fault Camelot doesn’t exist anymore. I’m so sure.

Except that I discovered at an early age that sharing information like this can make you kind of unpopular at Sleeping Beauty birthday parties. Or at that Medieval Times restaurant. Or during games of Dungeons & Dragons.

But what am I supposed to do, remain silent on the subject? I genuinely can’t help it. Like I’m really going to sit there and go, “Oh yeah, things were all really great back then. I wish I could find a time portal and go back to, like, the year 900 and visit and get lice and have all my hair frizz out because there was no conditioner, and oh, by the way, if you got strep throat or bronchitis you died because there weren’t any antibiotics.”

Um, not. As a consequence, I’m not at the top of anybody’s list when it comes time to send out invites to the Renaissance Fayre.

But whatever. I ended up giving in to my mom in the end. Not about the mall. About running with my dad.

I didn’t want to go, or anything.

Awards

  • Texas Lone Star Reading List (WINNER)
  • New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age (WINNER)