Ask Me by Kimberly PauleyAsk Me by Kimberly Pauley

Ask Me

byKimberly Pauley

Hardcover | April 8, 2014

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Paranormal gets a Stephen King makeover: An oracle in a small-town Florida uses her troubling gift to stop a murderer—before he comes for her.
 
Aria Morse is an Oracle, blessed—or cursed—with the gift of prophecy. Ask her anything, and the truth spills out immediately. But Aria’s answers sound like nonsense, even to herself . . . just as they did to those at Delphi 2,500 years ago. To cope, Aria has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight—until Jade Price, the closest person she has to a friend, disappears.

All of a sudden, everyone around her has questions. The “nonsense” Aria spouts becomes a matter of life and death. Aria may be the only one who can find out what happened to Jade. But the closer she gets to the truth, the closer she comes to being the next target of someone else who hides in plain sight. Someone with a very dark plan.
Kimberly Pauley is the award-winning author of Sucks to Be Me, which was honored on the YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers list. Born in California, she has lived everywhere from Florida to Chicago and has now gone international to live in London with her husband and son. She is also the founder of YA Books Central, one of the fir...
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Title:Ask MeFormat:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 8.53 × 5.91 × 1.02 inPublished:April 8, 2014Publisher:Soho PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1616953837

ISBN - 13:9781616953836

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great book! This book was really good. Another one I couldn't put down. I had to keep reading until I found out who did it. I really hope she will write another book with aria and her gift solving another murder!
Date published: 2015-04-11

Read from the Book

Chapter 1Who cares what the question is?"Who Cares What the Question Is?" by The BeesThe problem with prophecy is that someone has to actually ask the right question at the right time for me to produce the answer to it. Otherwise, I’m as adrift in the world asanyone else. Maybe more. The day that changed my life and the lives of everyone around me started the same as any other day, though technically things had been set in motion the night before. I just didn’t know it then.     It was a typical morning with Granddad Porter reading the paper or, more likely, studying the dog pages for the track. I sat down at the old wooden table in our tiny dining room and poured myself a glass of juice from the carafe. I took a sip and grimaced. Granddad gave me a knowing grin and tapped the side of his coffee mug, even though he knew I couldn’t stand coffee. I might have to develop a liking for it, though, if I had any hope of keeping my taste buds. Grandma Ellie’s juice concoction was far too heavy on the grapefruit that morning. She always said it was good to start the day with something sour, so everything else would seem sweet after. But if the truth were told, I think her taste buds gave up in disgust years ago.     “I’m thinking I might try getting the Powerball numbers out of you again,” Granddad said. I rolled my eyes. He’d been working on that ever since I’d moved in with them when I was thirteen, but my prophetic “gift” apparently didn’t want us to be independently wealthy. It didn’t seem to matter how he asked, the answer always came out as a cryptic riddle he could never figure out until after the numbers were picked. It wasn’t my fault, though. I’d tell him the numbers if I could. He knew I had no control over  my answers. I think he enjoyed the challenge. It was like a running family joke between us.     “You leave the girl alone, Porter, you hear me?” Gran called from the kitchen. “She doesn’t need any of your foolishness before school.” She poked her head in the doorway and waved a wooden spoon threateningly in his direction. “Pancakes and sausage in three minutes, Aria. Don’t fill yourself up on juice.” She disappeared back into the kitchen.     Granddad leaned forward and whispered to me, glancing at the kitchen as he did. There was little enough privacy in our house, but after the door between the kitchen and dining room had rotted off its hinges a few months ago, it was even worse. I could see the swish of Gran’s skirt as she whisked back and forth between the stove and the counter. “So, Aria . . . we could use a spot of help this month, even if it isn’t the Lotto. Don’t want to worry Ellie about it.” He gave another furtive look toward the kitchen. What that really meant was that he was going to ask me for something that she wouldn’t want to participate in. She didn’t believe in divination for personal gain, even when we were flat broke. Gran had lost her ability to prophesize years ago when she turned seventeen. She still cast the stones, but the only answers you could find that way were far more general than specific. Not the kind of help Granddad was looking for.     I nodded, and he scooted his chair a little closer to the table.     “So, could you tell me who’s going to win the third race?” He leaned over to put the tip sheet in front of me. I waved it away. It wasn’t necessary.     I let myself go loose so I wouldn’t interfere with the answer. Usually I’m trying to hold it back, and it felt strange and freeing to let it all go. “Your gambling away may bring loss easily. Question it,” I said, then paused to gather myself. “Sorry, Granddad. I guess that won’t help much.”     I sighed. It was times like these I wished I had any amount of control over what came out of my mouth. Gran may not approve, but giving tips to Granddad was the onlyway I had found to contribute. Money had been tight since I had moved in, and it wasn’t like mom or dad ever sent any funds our way to help out with things. It had been  months since I’d heard anything from either one of them and that had only been a birthday card signed by Janice, Dad’s second wife. He hadn’t even bothered to scribblehis own name on it. No money in it either, just a generic card with a teddy bear on the front. Apparently, they still thought I was seven instead of seventeen.     “No, no, I think that might do it,” said Granddad, chewing on his stub of a pencil. “The long odds are on a dog called Y Gamble? Clever. The odds-on favorite is Bonnie Ballyhoo, but I think I’ll put my money on the other fellow.” He grinned and winked as he leaned back in his chair. “Just don’t tell Ellie.”     “Don’t tell Ellie what, you old dog?” Gran came in with a platter full of pancakes and sausage.      “Nothing!” said Granddad loudly. I mumbled something under my breath about fools and money that probably neither one of them would have wanted to hear. That was a trick I used all the time. People were always asking questions, and the only way I could leave the house and go out in public without attracting too much attention was to go ahead and answer as quietly as I could. One of the names the kids at school called me was The Mumbler. It was one of the nicer ones.     Not answering a question I overheard wasn’t possible. The longest I’d ever made it without answering had been ten minutes, and that had been on a small, inconsequentialquestion. Those minutes had been the most uncomfortable moments of my life. Well, physically painful, anyway. If we wanted to talk emotional pain, I had lots of storiesto tell, stretching back years, back to when I’d first been cursed with the “gift” of prophecy at age twelve.     “Hmmmphf,” said Gran. She set down the plate and picked up the paper, pretending not to notice as the dog pages fell out onto the table. Granddad swept them onto the floor and kicked them under the table where chances were he’d forget them.     I took two pancakes and poured some honey over them, grateful Gran hadn’t tried to pass off one of her homemade orange marmalades on us this morning. She never used enough sugar. The fact that the few tourists who came through Lake Mariah bought them never failed to amaze me. I supposed “quaint” counted for something. Either that or they were charity purchases. Probably the latter. It was pretty obvious to anyone  that came by our roadside stand that we were terminally broke.     “Oh,” said Gran. She put the paper down on the table.     “What?” I asked. There was something about the way she’d said it that made me think of how she sounded when she talked about my mom, her absentee daughter.     “A hit and run.” She slid the newspaper even farther away on the table, like she could push death away. “One of those farm workers of Dale Walker’s. Happened nearLaurel Creek last night . . .”     “An illegal, I bet,” said Granddad. He wasn’t a big fan of Dale’s or his business practices. He had a reputation for being cheap and cruel to his workers, at least  according to Granddad. We heard about it a lot at the breakfast table. Living in a small town meant everything was everyone’s business. Besides, Granddad had worked on a farm when he was young, and he still complained about the blisters. I think it morally offended him that Dale never actually broke a sweat himself. Slave labor, he called it.     “There’s nothing here that says he was,” Gran said, waving at the paper.“What was his name?” Granddad replied.     “Armando Huerta,” said Gran and I at the same time.     “But I don’t see how that matters anyway,” continued Gran sharply. “Same result. A man is dead, and he’s left behind his wife, Gabriella, along with three young kids. It’s a shame, is what it is.” Gran bent her grey head down to say a quick prayer. I ducked mine as well, though I really didn’t have anything to say.     “Yeah.” Granddad was quiet a moment, though he didn’t bow his head down like Gran. “Still, I’d bet good money it’s Dale’s fault somehow. Probably had the poor guy out working late or something. Wouldn’t be surprised if he ran him over himself.”     Gran raised her head. “Drop it, Porter,” she said sternly. “You’re like a dog with a bone.”     “I’m just saying,” continued Granddad, worrying his pancake into shreds. “You think Dale even noticed the guy didn’t show up for work today?”     “No,” I answered unwillingly. “Not until the police showed up.” Gran threw Granddad a menacing look, but he was on a roll and didn’t even notice he’d asked a question.     “You see,” he said, waving his fork in the air, stabbing at nothing to make his point. “Who do you think even found the poor guy? Not Dale, I’d bet you that.”     Everyday kind of questions didn’t really have much effect on me, other than causing me to spew out some kind of answer. They were nuisances, like mosquitoes buzzingaround my head, and were gone as soon as I spoke my answer. But big questions, life or death kind of questions or questions deeply felt, those had a way of hitting me directly in the middle. This one sailed right through me, leaving a dull burning sensation in my stomach. “Guts and blood—red is everywhere.” I spit out. “Love lost. Anger fills her.” I felt my face flush and then grow pale. “Useless . . . except rage takes away . . .” A small moan escaped my lips. Oh, God, the pain. For a moment I felt like the wife, staring down at her husband in a puddle of blood on a dirty road.     I fumbled for my glass and took a big sip, trying to ignore the way my hand shook until I dropped it, my pancakes cushioning the blow and saving the glass. Juice spreadacross the table in a sickly orange film. Gran jumped up to grab a towel from the kitchen.     “Sorry about that,” said Granddad, dropping his fork into the sticky mess as he grabbed his own napkin to staunch the flow. “Always forgetting and running my foolmouth, aren’t I?”     “Yes. It’s okay,” I said, breathing through my mouth, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to drink juice again for a while, not that it would be a big loss. A metallic taste filledmy mouth, like blood. “I need to get to school anyway. Sorry about the mess, Gran.”     “No worries,” she said, hurrying in with the towel. “You go on. Take another pancake with you. You need to eat, especially after that. Get something in your stomach.” She whacked Granddad in the back of the head, and he nodded meekly.     I took a fresh pancake from the platter, knowing I would throw it away as soon as I was far enough down the road they couldn’t see me.Chapter 2You can't be everything to everyone."This is the Tide" by the Dandy WarholsI rolled down the windows in my ancient Dodge Colt as I drove, trying to ignore the way my stomach was still twitching. Even this early in the morning, the heat in the car sucked at me, and I let myself sink into it like it was a blanket. The air conditioning in the Colt had breathed out its last long before I took possession of it, and only threeof the four cylinders actually worked. But it ran. Besides, even with no air and the slow pace, it was better than the hour-long bus ride to Lake Mariah High School on a busfilled with kids and their questions. I had been saving up for a car since my freshman year, though I still wouldn’t have been able to afford one if Granddad hadn’t traded our lawnmower and some tools with one of Dale’s workers.     It was worth it. Every bus ride had been a small trip through hell. Whatever it was that made me answerable to everyone didn’t care whether a query was actually directedat me, only that I could hear it. Answers burned inside me, even for rhetorical  questions. Watching quiz shows on TV gave me a headache for days, and it had nothing to do with the annoying hosts. Grandpa joked that I’d clean up if I went on a show, but I knew there was no way I could survive it.     I tossed the pancake out the window when I reached the main county road, and my tires hit pavement. I watched in my rear view mirror as it sailed out into a copse filledwith oaks and pines, dripping with Spanish moss. The pancake would likely be gone in an hour or two, devoured by any number of creatures. Florida may be full of retirees and tourists, but in the center of the state, the wilderness still ruled. Once you came in from the beaches and the sherbet-colored coastal towns, you were in old Florida. It had teeth.     I was born in Michigan, in the cold and the snow, but four years here had made me a child of the heat. I did not miss the cold or the brittle stares of the girls who had oncebeen my friends, before my gift had turned them against me. Who wants a friend who only speaks the truth?     We lived a good half-hour from town in our little shanty shack, which suited me fine, even with the long ride into school every day. The only time I felt at peace was out inthe forests and wetlands. There the only sounds you could hear were the endless chants of the cicadas and the low buzzing whine of mosquitoes. They, at least, were honest bloodsuckers. They never questioned me.     Too soon, I pulled into the school parking lot. I parked in the no-man’s land by the mosquito-filled drainage ditch, grabbed my drab army green backpack, and put my headphones in. I just had a cheap, store-brand MP3 player, but it was the one thing that got me through the day still sane. I turned it on and cranked it up before I headed into the main building. Even with it on, I kept my eyes down and headed straight to my locker. You never knew when someone might shout out a question— “Hey, how was your weekend!” —loud enough to break through the music. Mumbling answers mostly worked, but it definitely wasn’t foolproof and if I was sufficiently surprised, my answer always seemed to come out too loud. If I could get away with listening to my MP3 player in class, my life would be a lot easier.     Someone bumped their shoulder into me, dislodging my backpack and one of my earphones. I looked up into the sneering face of a boy. Hank? No, Tank. A nickname,I assumed. Surely his parents would never have guessed that he’d turn into such a hulking specimen when he was first born.     “Freak,” he said and slammed his shoulder into me one more time for good measure, knocking my backpack the rest of the way off of my arm and onto the floor.     I stumbled, catching myself on a girl’s arm to keep from falling, making her spill the contraband soda she was carrying. It splashed all over the front of my skirt, missing her entirely. She threw me off with a look of absolute revulsion, making me wish I actually did have the plague or leprosy so I could pass it on to her.     “What’s your problem?” she said. “Get off me.”     “I can only live the future, not see it,” I said. Probably a deeper answer than what she was looking for, but she walked on without waiting for a response, anyway. I put my stray earphone back in and flicked the volume louder. Then I went after my backpack, which had been kicked farther down the hall by some of Tank’s friends. I snagged a shoulder strap before anyone else could kick it again and turned against the crowd to go to the bathroom to see what I could do about my soaked skirt. I was sure jokes about me having peed myself were swirling around me, but all I could hear now was The Dandy Warhols. I let my hair fall around my face as I nodded my head in time to the music, my eyes downcast and half closed.     I pushed the door to the bathroom open. There were two girls standing in front of the one mirror that hadn’t been completely defaced by Sharpie markers. The blonde one was leaning over the sink, shoulders shaking. The brown-haired one turned her head as I came in, a pained look on her pretty face. Delilah Jenkins, which meant that the other girl had to be Jade Price. Delilah never went anywhere without Jade. Or, rather, Jade ever went anywhere without Delilah following along behind. Delilah said something to me, gesturing wildly at the same time. Against my better judgment, I stopped and pulled an earphone out.     She pursed her lips and blew out a stream of air, exasperated with me already. “Get out,” she snapped. “Can’t you see we’re busy?” She glared at me as I stood half-in, half-out of the doorway. A mother hen protecting her chick.     “I only see pain and tragedy,” I said softly, but apparently loudly enough that Jade heard.     Jade lifted her head to look at me, her blue-green eyes red-rimmed. She looked strange and wild with her hair hanging lank around her face. I was used to seeing hersmiling and perfect, always in control.     She hiccupped once and put a hand on Delilah’s arm. “It’s only Aria,” she said, her voice raw. She’d been crying for a while. “Leave her alone, Delilah.” Gracious even inher sorrow, she waved a welcoming hand at me. “Don’t mind me, I’m just—” she hiccupped again “—having a crisis.” She managed a watery smile.     Even though she was popular—maybe even the most popular girl in school—Jade had always been, if not exactly my friend, at least kind to me. On a few occasions, my defender. I wasn’t the only one. She had risen to her adored status within the school not by climbing over the backs of others, but on the strength of her personality and her kindheartedness. Of course, it also helped that she possessed that brittle kind of beauty that made you want to protect her even as she protected you: those wide-set eyes set within a delicate, heart-shaped face, all framed by wispy pale blonde hair.     “Sorry,” I muttered. I went to a sink. Delilah sniffed but ignored my presence and went back to rubbing circles on Jade’s back.     The front of my skirt was soaked. I grabbed a handful of thin brown paper towels from the dispenser and dabbed at my leg. Luckily it was early enough in the day that there were actually still towels to be had. By the end of the day you were lucky to get toilet paper.     Being here with Jade reminded me of the first time she had saved me. As a freshman, before I had discovered that music would allow me to roam the halls  relatively unscathed, I had spent a good deal of time in bathroom stalls, cursing Gran for not letting me homeschool any longer. She said that someone who had barely finished high school herself had no business teaching “higher subjects.” But really she wanted to force me into dealing with people. She said I couldn’t hide at home forever. Instead, I wound up hiding in the john.     Then one day, snotty Shelley Roman asked me what my problem was. I stood wedged in the corner by the trashcan, pretending to look at nothing. She had been watching me in the mirror as she put on mascara, her mouth half-open in a perfect moue. Bad timing for that particular question: my period had arrived early and with vengeance that morning. My answer said as much. Jade had been there, too. Instead of cackling with embarrassment and delight like Shelley and her crew, she’d kicked them out, gave me some pads and ibuprofen, and stood guard at the bathroom door so I could have privacy until I was done. She ran off before I could even thank her. I wondered if she even remembered.     “Just tell me what happened,” Delilah said, bringing me back to the present. I got the feeling from her wheedling tone that it was the same thing she had been demandingof Jade before I arrived. “It can’t be that bad. Why won’t you tell me?”     My memories had gotten the better of me. I should have put my earphones back in, especially in such a small space. I whispered, “Some things can only be confided tothe earth.”     Delilah had chosen to fell silent at exactly the wrong moment. “Are you eavesdropping?” Her voice dripped disbelief.     “Yes,” I said, wanting to say no. I didn’t look up from brushing at my skirt, though the cheap paper towels had actually made the mess worse rather than better. They haddisintegrated into shreds of muddy brown and were now plastered to the rough cotton of my skirt.     “What did you say, Aria?” asked Jade, her tone more curious than confrontational. Gentle, even. It occurred to me that perhaps she had been kind all these years because she, too, thought I was touched in the head.     I gave up and dropped my skirt, looked directly at her, and repeated: “Some things can only be confided to the earth.” Not that I had a choice.     I shrugged, a slight apology for intruding where I wasn’t wanted. I had nothing to add, no explanations. I didn’t know what it meant. Who talks to dirt?     They both looked at me, Delilah slightly bug-eyed and Jade with her eyes swimming behind more tears.     “Yes,” Jade finally said, nodding slowly. “Some things are better left unsaid, aren’t they?”     “The damage has already been done,” I responded. “What you choose now only determines the extent.” My voice rumbled and caught, my throat burning. I didn’tknow what her secret crisis was, but it had to be a big one. I swallowed to alleviate the sudden dryness in my mouth. Jade was staring intently at me, like she could find an answer in my ravings. I threw the remains of the paper towels in the garbage. “I’m sorry,” I said again, eyes down. “I should go. I hope your crisis works out. Sorry.” I grabbed my book bag and hurried out the door, just catching Delilah’s “What the hell was that?”     I squashed my lips together, but the word “truth” leaked out all the same. The swish of the door closing covered it up. I ran on to class, the hallways almost empty, my footsteps echoing and my skirt plastered to my leg like a shroud.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Ask Me"[T]he writing and the character development are top notch . . . Pauley writes with humor but also manages to maintain suspense. And readers will enjoy getting a look at rural Florida—which is far different from the Disney World and beaches that most readers know."—Examiner.com“A real page-turner that will have readers thinking that they know the killer and then changing their minds, leaving them wondering right up until the end . . . A dark mystery featuring a unique heroine.”—Booklist, Starred Review"The concept behind Ask Me is without a doubt one of the best I've read... phenomenal."—Fresh Fiction"Startling, sometimes painful . . . absorbing and resonant."—Publishers Weekly“Readers will be biting their nails . . . Part romance, mystery, and horror, [Ask Me] has enough suspense and dynamic characters to sustain interest, even for reluctant readers.”—School Library Journal “Pauley keeps the pages flipping. She paints a fascinating portrait of Aria, both her insecurities and eventually her courage.”—Kirkus Reviews"The best books keep their readers on a knife's edge of uncertainty, racing through the pages for resolutions. Kimberly Pauley has created a perfectly balanced, cutting masterpiece with Ask Me. Rest up before you begin, because you won't sleep easily when you're finished."—Myra McEntire, author of the Hourglass trilogy"Cryptic, dark, and delicious, Ask Me is the perfect pick for teens on the Stephen King track. Pauley has brilliantly crafted a paranormal thriller grounded in myth and twisted with the insecurity and hope every loner has felt. I'm staying out of the Florida woods forever."—Delilah S. Dawson, author of Wicked as They Come"Prepare to lose sleep . . . Kimberly Pauley’s Ask Me is a pulse-pounding thriller that left me guessing until the very end." —Marlene Perez, author of the bestselling Dead Is series"If you ask me, Pauley's new book explores one of the most original ideas I've seen in a long time."  —Sara Grant, author of Dark Parties and Half Lives "Original, atmospheric, and utterly compelling. I couldn't put it down." —C.J. Redwine, author of Defiance and Deception"A suspenseful, surprising novel from start to finish." —Alex Flinn, author of Beastly and Breathing Underwater"A suspenseful blend of modern day thriller and ancient myth, perfect for all lovers of a good murder mystery—teens and adults alike."—Tiffany Trent, author of The Unnaturalists and The Tinker King“I couldn't put this book down and yet I didn't want it to end! A beautifully written mystery full of suspense and unexpected twists and turns. I loved it!”—Jo Knowles, author Living with Jackie Chan and Lessons from a Dead Girl“Incredibly satisfying . . . a fast read as well as an enjoyable one.”—Crimespree Magazine"Ask Me uses pitch-perfect prose to plunge the reader into a stunning and imaginative world filled with memorable moments, riveting action, and unforgettable characters. Well done."—David Lubar, author of Hidden Talents