The Radiant Road by Katherine Catmull

The Radiant Road

byKatherine Catmull

Paperback | April 18, 2017

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A gorgeously woven tale of magic, friendship, and self-discovery set in a dream-like landscape filled with fairies.
 
After years of living in America, Clare Macleod and her father are returning to Ireland, where they’ll inhabit the house Clare was born in—a house built into a green hillside with a tree for a wall. For Clare, the house is not only full of memories of her mother, but also of a mysterious boy with raven-dark hair and dreamlike nights filled with stars and magic. Clare soon discovers that the boy is as real as the fairy-making magic, and that they’re both in great danger from an ancient foe.


★ "A stunningly atmospheric, gorgeously complicated dream of a book."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ "An unforgettable tale . . . that contains all the darkness and light of A Midsummer Night's Dream."—School Library Journal, starred review

About The Author

Katherine Catmull (katherinecatmull.com) is an actor, freelance writer, voice-over artist, and sometimes playwright. Her first novel, Summer and Bird, was called "a stunning debut" that "thrills with complex storytelling" by Booklist. She lives in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @kmcatmull.
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Details & Specs

Title:The Radiant RoadFormat:PaperbackDimensions:368 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.68 inPublished:April 18, 2017Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0142426288

ISBN - 13:9780142426289

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Read from the Book

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***Copyright © 2016 Katherine CatmullChapter 1Not My Home, No Place IsClare was a strange girl, solitary and shy. She was a stranger to the place she lived, and a stranger to the place she was born. And some- times the Strange came to visit Clare, and dreams walked through her waking life.You know the Strange, too. It comes to everyone in different ways and times and flavors.It’s that feeling when you’re alone at twilight, and the birds go suddenly silent, and a wind lifts up the leaves and drops them, and you listen, but you don’t know what for.Or that odd sense, when the light shifts a certain way, and you say, “Oh, this feels like a dream, I feel like I’m dreaming”—that’s the Strange.Or the Halloween feeling—you must know that one—the feeling of dead leaves and chill and early dark, when a burning orange mask, freshly cut, bars the way to a familiar door. The breath of the Strange slips under your own mask as you walk down the dark street, carrying your trick-or-treat bag, pretending it’s only fun and not scary at all. The Strange swells and sighs beside you, almost close enough to touch.Clare passed through patches of Strange often, much more than just at Halloween. She passed through them the way you swim through patches of surprising cold in a summer lake: with a shiver, but swimming on. It was her mother who had taught her that word, when Clare was small, that word for it among others. “The Strange has been here—do you feel it?” she would say.Or “The Other Crowd is passing through.”Or “Throw a pebble in that whirlwind for the fairies.”Fairies. Obviously, the world and time had ruined that word for Clare, to the point where she felt herself flush to hear it. But even at almost-fifteen—when she no longer believed in fairies (in the Strange, the Other Crowd: whatever)—even now, when she caught sight of something extraordinary, and Strange, she would hear her mother’s words: Ah, look—a fairy-making.It was the only name she knew, for what no one seemed to notice, but her.For example, one day, not long before this story begins, as Clare sat alone in the living room, a book fell from a shelf all on its own. Its pages fluttered for a moment, like a butterfly balancing on a flower. Then the book settled open.From a vase on a shelf above the book, one pink rose petal drifted down and landed on the open page.Clare bent to look. The petal had fallen on a line of poetry: “Eternity is in love with the productions of time,” it read.“Ah, look,” she said softly. “Ah, look, a fairy-making.” The breath of the Strange cooled the air around her.•The night this story begins was not Halloween, but late spring. Clare was in her backyard, swinging on a rough board hung by two knotted ropes from a high cottonwood tree. Her bare feet swept up high, straining toward the silhouette of a dead limb that, for no special reason, she was trying to knock down. After a while, the pull and push of the swing lulled her. She forgot the dead branch and dropped her head back into the dark. Her hair, red as a leaf, not quite curly, fell back, then fell around her face, then fell back, over and over. Her body in white shorts and T-shirt made a ghostly diagonal trail in the night, back and forth, back and forth.This would be her last time on this swing. Today had been the last day of school. Tomorrow, she and her father were moving to Ireland to live in a house with a tree inside it.Clare had been born in that tree-inside house, fourteen years, eleven months, and ten and eleven days earlier. She had two birth- days, because her head emerged just before midnight on June 20, and her feet right after midnight on June 21. On birthdays, her mother used to make her two cakes, give her two presents, two birthday kisses, and so on.When Clare was almost six, when the family still lived in that peculiar Irish house, Clare’s mother died. It was the worst thing thathad ever happened, or ever could happen. For a long time after, the pain was like a fire that never went out, and sometimes flared up hot and raging.That was too much pain for such a small girl. So Clare smothered her blazing grief, and she did it little by little, by forgetting her mother and their life together. That flower of pain wouldn’t stop blooming, and she was only little, and knew no other way. She built brick walls of other thoughts, other memories, between herself and her mother and their life.After a while, instead of a blazing bonfire, her grief was like the evening sun behind the trees when you ride your bicycle west: sometimes you get a glimpse between the branches, or you hit a bump in the road, and the sudden blaze of sun in your eyes hurts so much, it blinds you. But mostly you’re just riding quietly along in the dusk.She always wore a little silver star on a silver chain around her neck, which her mother had given her, which had been her mother’s necklace when she was small, and her grandmother’s before that, and back and back. But by now, by this night in the swing, she hardly remembered her mother at all. She remembered a hand on her hair; and she recalled a scent of wild orchids and roses, a scent that meant kindness and joy, a scent that was there, and then was gone.Clare also hardly remembered that Irish house she was born in—except that it was by the sea, under a green hill, with a tree running up one wall like a spine. She did remember the tree; she remembered her surprise when other people’s houses did not have trees inside them. And she remembered walking up to the hill-roof to visit the top of the tree, where it lived with its face to the sky.After her mother died, Clare and her father rattled around the empty house like two dried beans, and the sound they made was all wrong. She remembered that. The sound was wrong, and that was why they had to move away. Or that was how it felt to Clare, when she was not quite six years old.So one day they packed their clothes, locked the door of the Irish house, and moved far away. They left Clare’s mother’s ashes in a wooden box over the fireplace, because her father could not bear to release them to wind or earth or water, and could not bear to keep them near. They moved, and then they moved again and again, as he tried to escape the grief that chased him on. He was too old to build walls to hide his pain behind, and so he ran.Although he was born in a place called Skye, his work took him deep beneath the earth; he was a geologist, an excellent one, a genius of all that lies hot and still beneath the world we walk on. Rich men in dark suits digging for gold or coal or oil wanted that genius and would pay for it. So the two sad beans could move whenever theyliked; there was always a new place to go, a new job to do. They never stayed anywhere more than a year. After a while, they got used to the new sound they made, rattling together alone.But now, after nine years, her father had given up running. Tomorrow, they would move back to the house where Clare was born, where her mother was born, where her grandmother and great-grandmother were born, and back and back, before there were photographs, before people remember.“And I’ve even found work, before our plane lands,” her father had said just this morning. He pointed to a contract on the kitchen counter. “There’s been a partial collapse of a mine I once worked on—thank God, no one was hurt—and the new owner has asked me in to consult.” Clare had squinted at a thick, black, antique- looking signature next to her father’s familiar scribble, and smiled to herself. Maybe that’s how they write in Ireland.•Ireland was tomorrow. This was tonight. Clare let the swing slow, leaped off, misjudged the leap, fell to her knees. She lay back on the grass in the warm night. The streetlight was out, and the moon was low, and the stars’ small lights shone clear. The grass itched.Watching the stars, she thought how they wheeled above her like a flock of birds. But the sky wheels slowly, slow and slow, she thought, too slow for me to see.She thought: I’ll write that down, about the slow wheel of the stars. But she didn’t move. Instead she watched the brightest star, closest to the moon, and murmured a soft “Star light, star bright.”When she got to “wish tonight,” she paused, searching her heart, then found and said her wish: “A friend.”Then Clare stopped thinking and watched the constellations, her mind as wordless as the night.That’s when a fairy-making slipped in. The Strange often waits until words have died away.Clare frowned. There was an extra star on Orion’s knife.All her hair pricked up. That fast, Clare was alert as a cat, eyes wide, fingers tense against the grass. More stars, now, blinked off, then on, then off.But then she saw, and almost laughed: they were not stars—the blinking lights were fireflies.So . . . was it nothing Strange, then? But it was, for still her skin prickled cold in the warm night as she watched the fireflies blinking among the stars.The blinking became more regular.Then it became perfectly regular. The fireflies were blinking off and on together in unison. Each time the fireflies blinked back on, they were closer together. They positioned themselves precisely against the distant, steady stars. It was as if the fireflies meant tocomplete a picture that the stars had only begun; to make a new, blinking constellation of fireflies and stars.It felt like a dream. Ah, thought Clare—though less in wonder, this time, than fear—a fairy-making. Her legs on the grass were damp with cold sweat.Off, on, off. A picture. Off, on, off.A picture like a face—a terrible face. A glowing fright mask, blinking off, on, off above her.The face was long and narrow.Off, on, off.It had one eye, and a huge mouth, gaping wide, as if to swallow or scream.Off, on, off.And where the other eye should be (off, on, off )—where the other eye should be, instead of an eye, was a swirling chaos.Clare’s heart was beating fast, fast, fast. One arm flew up defensively to shield her face.The mask lowered itself toward her, and the glowing mouth hovered closer: visible, invisible, visible again. Invisible was worse. It’s insects and stars, that’s all it is, she said to her thundering heart. But her heart did not believe her.The picture vanished. Clare waited, arm still flung over her face,too frightened to blink or breathe. But the mask and the fireflies were gone. Only the stars in their familiar shapes remained.The dark was darker now, and the stars were farther away. Clare stood, brushed off her clothes with trembling hands, and ran inside to write it down, as she always did with fairy-makings, just in case.•Clare was always writing things down. It was the last remnant of her making childhood. “Dad, see my making on the refrideragor,” she would say of a blobby watercolor, which was perhaps a hairy cow on hind legs. Or “Mam, look at my making, look what I MADE,” of a cardboard windmill that almost really worked.Clare’s making continued even in sleep, in her glorious, exultant dreams, where she modeled pink shoes before a crowd of interested birds; where huge golden animals moved toward her at dusk, because she was their queen; where she sat at a campfire, looking through the flames at a dark boy wearing a long scarf like a Candy Land rainbow, looped around and around his neck. In her dreams, she often played with smiling people who could sprout wings or beaks or elephant trunks, who made her laugh, whom she called the fairies.And back then, in waking life, fairy-makings abounded. Her world was the broad refrigerator door where the Strange posted their art, just like she posted hers at home.Once on a stony beach, she found an oyster encrusted withpearls, pearls on the outside, a cluster of tiny summer moons, and the oyster still tucked inside. Her mother admired it, then waded out into the water, carrying Clare, so that they could throw it safely home.Another time, under a lake’s thick ice, Clare saw a hawk frozen in mid-flight, wings back, talons outstretched, reaching for the fish frozen just out of reach.In those days, Clare dreamed, and Clare made, and the Strange made, too, and left their makings everywhere for her to see.But that was before her mother died, before she was a fledgling fallen from the nest too soon, downy and vulnerable and hiding.Maybe it was the hiding that made her making-wells dry up. Or perhaps they clogged with grief. Or perhaps it was only growing up. Certainly, as she grew older, she learned from others that she was strange, and her makings were strange, and not to be shared on pain of mockery or worse. In time, the wells of making became a bare trickle. Clare even forgot to remember her glorious dreams.But the fairy-makings never left her; those followed even as she and her father moved and moved again.She soon learned to keep those to herself as well. One day, on a Michigan grade school playground, nine-year-old Clare saw the wind whirl a pile of autumn leaves into a ruby-colored spout, fromwhich exploded a small flock of sparrows. Unthinking, she cried, “Ah, look, a fairy-making!”There was silence. No one else had noticed. Then a girl said, “Do you actually, like, believe in fairies?”Clare didn’t know what to say. Everyone started laughing, and after that they always asked her about the fairy-makings—in a mean way, not a nice one, as if it were a baby thing.That evening, Clare asked her father straight out: “Are fairies real?”He was putting dishes away in the kitchen, and didn’t turn to look at her. “Oh now, fairies,” he said. “Many stories of them in your mother’s country. And Skye was great with stories of the Good People, too, when I was a boy. You’re a Macleod—the Macleod castle on Skye still has a fairy flag, you know, given to my many-greats-grandfather by his wife, who was a fairy herself, they say. When the Macleods needed extra help in battle, they’d raise that flag. I’ve seen it. It’s a bit shredded now. In fact . . .” He turned to her, looking pleased, said, “Wait,” and went off to his room.He returned with a tiny shred of dirty, graying cloth, and laid it on the palm of her hand.“That’s a bit of the flag itself,” he said. “Or so my granda swore. He swiped a scrap for luck in the war. And he came out of some bloody battles without a scratch. So perhaps it works.”Now he looked up, saw her troubled face. “It’s just stories, my girl,” he said gently. “Don’t let it weigh on your heart.”So Clare put fairy-makings into a special category in her thoughts. Of course they were not actually made by fairies (fairies, god, that word), not made by the Strange, obviously she knew that. She knew that: but she never stopped believing in them.Meanwhile the fairies left her dreams, and were replaced by dreams of I-forgot-to-study, or gross bathrooms, or teeth falling out, the same dreams everyone has—though Clare’s dream class- rooms and bathrooms were haunted by the heavy tread and snuffling breath of some ever-unseen monster.As for her making, by almost-fifteen, Clare had closed up nearly as tight as a green bud.Nearly, but not quite. She always carried a small notebook with her, one that had been her mother’s, one she had found two years earlier while irritably searching the backs of closets for a missing pair of gloves. The notebook was pocket-sized, bound in a faded gray-green, rather institutional cloth. Áine Quinn, Fifth Class, said the first page. Áine Quinn was Clare’s mother’s name before she was married. Áine was pronounced “Ahn-ya.” Fifth was crossed out in a different ink color, and Sixth written above it. Commonplace Book, it said below that.This was my mother’s. It felt warm in her hand.She questioned her father, without telling him the reason, and learned that class meant “grade” in Ireland (“In Scotland we call it ‘form.’ ” Okay, Dad, whatever). She also learned that commonplace book didn’t mean “ordinary book” or “you-could-find-it-anywhere book.”“It’s where you write down things you’ve read that you want to remember,” he said, “or draw or paste pictures you want to save, like that. Thinking of starting one?”Clare shrugged.“Ah well, you needn’t tell me, you stubborn child,” he said cheerfully, and left it at that.Clare kept that notebook always with her. When she saw a fairy-making, she wrote it down. When she read a scrap of poetry or prose she loved (which was almost as good as a fairy-making, to her), she wrote that down as well.And sometimes Clare turned the notebook upside down, and in the back, in her tiniest handwriting, she wrote poems of her own.Hiding her poems upside down in the back made her feel as if they weren’t really there. Anyway they aren’t real poems, she told herself. They’re notes for poems I might write some day.Although she was almost too embarrassed to reread them, and would never have told anyone about them, ever—still, privately, and never aloud—she called those tiny scraps of poetry “my makings.”•During the year before this story begins, Clare and her father lived in Texas. It was as if they had come around the world to the exact opposite of Ireland: a hot sun blaring from squint-bright sky, ground flat and dry with patches of prickly grass. Her father would say, “It has its own great beauty here, and the winters are kind,” but Clare thought he secretly missed wet and green.In Texas, no one knew about Clare and her fairy-makings, or knew to laugh at her. But by now she was so Strange-haunted and solitary that no one talked to her at all, except to say, after a long stare, “You talk funny,” and walk away.Clare knew it was true, about how she talked. She sounded neither Irish, like her mother, nor Scottish, like her father. But she didn’t sound American, either. Clare didn’t sound right for any- where in the world, but especially not for Midland, Texas.On the first day of school in Midland, the teacher had asked them each to stand up and say what made them special. Clare made a small list on a page of her notebook as she waited her turn.     1. Dead mam.     2. I used to play with fairies in my dreams, ha-ha.     3. And all the fairy-makings.God. She started to crumple the paper, but stopped. That second line felt like . . . something.She chewed for a moment on her chewed-up pen.Before my mother died, she wrote,I used to play with fairies in my dreams.She paused.And fairy-makings wound through every day drifted through our daysLike curious boats, whose pilots were unseen. But now—“Clare Macleod?” called the teacher. Clare’s pen skidded, startled.“Do you have something to share with us, Clare?”Hastily, Clare crumpled the paper into a hard, damp ball and shoved it in her pocket, her face on fire. She didn’t answer.My strangeness is all I have, she vowed at that moment—meaning all I have left of Ireland, of childhood, of home, though she never said it to herself that way. I have to keep it to myself, so no one knows, or they’ll try to take it away from me. They’ll try to make me like everyone else.So Clare kept her strangeness to herself. She kept herself safe; and she kept herself tightly locked. She was her own protector and her own jailer.It didn’t matter much. Combined with her placeless, homeless accent, her silence in class that day was not a good start. She spent her Texas year, like most of her other years, alone.•The morning after she saw the terrible mask made of fireflies and stars, Clare sat in a crowded airplane, still haunted by that gaping mouth and chaos-eye. Her father sat beside her, haunted by a box of ashes he had not seen in nine years, for ashes will pursue you, wherever you go, until you put them to rest. That’s why they sat on this plane, not talking, those two lonely beans, flying over a cold dark sea, returning home.They did not know—but I know—that Clare was a magic bean, sprouting soon, the seed of a great story and the winning or the losing of a great battle. She sat still and silent, but she flew through air and space, and her life was turning as the green globe turnedbeneath her.•When the plane arrived in Ireland, time seemed to stumble. Was it early morning? Late at night? Clare herself stumbled behind her father through customs. A man in a uniform looked at her passport and said, “Welcome home then, miss.”It’s not my home, no place is, thought Clare.“How long did it take to get here?” Clare asked while they waited for their rental car. “I can’t find the right feeling about what time it is.”He rubbed her shoulder gently with one hand. “The flight was nine hours, but we also lost six hours in the time change. The flightis longer going back,” he added, “because coming here we flew with the wind, and going back the plane will fly with its nose pushing hard against the way the wind wishes to go.”Clare stopped listening as her father talked on. She felt irritable and afraid.Soon they were on their way, driving through a tangle of free- ways that looked like any country at all, nothing special, nothing that said “home.” Then the road dipped, and their car entered a tunnel, a long, dark one, darker and longer than any tunnel Clare had ever known. She thought: I don’t know where I’m going, and I will never come out to the light again.That’s the feeling of tunnels. But they did come out; you always do. And once they were on the highway, the green rolling past, it started to rain, steady and swishing. The thunder was soft and far away. Clare slipped into the backseat to lie down, and her father didn’t say no. She fell asleep.Maybe Ireland will remind me of my mother, Clare thought. Maybe the water will taste like her. Maybe the wind will feel like a hand in my hair. She did feel that somehow, somehow, something was waiting for her here.And she was right.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for The Radiant Road★ "A stunningly atmospheric, gorgeously complicated dream of a book."—Publishers Weekly, starred review★ "An unforgettable tale . . . that contains all the darkness and light of A Midsummer Night's Dream."—School Library Journal, starred review"Gorgeous, haunting, and wonderfully strange, The Radiant Road establishes Katherine Catmull as a master of the modern fairy tale."—Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs"Katherine Catmull deftly weaves Clare's contemporary story with ancient Celtic lore. The Radiant Road is a beguiling novel with a strong, engaging protagonist."—Juliet Marillier, author of Daughter of the Forest and Wildwood Dancing"An eerily lovely story."—BooklistPraise for Katherine Catmull’s Summer and Bird ★ “Catmull’s stunning debut unleashes a fierce imagination to build a wholly original world, rich with the familiar shimmer of folklore . . . this atmospheric adventure thrills with complex storytelling, carefully threaded with bits of foreshadowing and overflowing with poignant imagery.”—Booklist, starred review ★ “A haunting fable inflected with mythological and fairy-tale motifs . . . . The author balances this meticulous, symbol-rich narrative with a light, storyteller's voice, posing questions that readers must answer for themselves.”—Kirkus, starred review “The book’s greatest strength lies in Catmull’s ability to articulate the disorientation and sense of injustice that accompany loss.”—Publishers Weekly “Powerful and intriguing.”—School Library Journal