Author: Brenna Yovanoff
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Synopsis: The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.
For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.
With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.
"What are we doing here?"
He looks up, pointing to a thick rope knotted around one of the upper branches, and all I can think is how amazing it is that someone actually climbed up there to tie it.
Finny turns and gazes out toward the river. The rope dangles limply, draped over one of the lower branches to keep it out of the water, but I can see that if one of us were to unhook it, it would swing directly over the river.
"Won't we get wet?"
He shrugs. "Well, yeah. But do you actually mind?"
I shake my head a little too frantically, trying to figure out if, under his easy manner, there's any indication that he expects me to strip down. That I'm supposed to take off my T-shirt dress and swing off the rope in just my bra and underwear.
But Finny doesn't seem to be using the excuse of swimming in the river as a ploy to get me undressed. He grabs the rope on both hands, pulling himself up onto a low, heavy branch, and now I understand that wet clothes are just a normal part of the activity. With the end of the rope twisted around one wrist, he climbs higher. It's nice watching him climb. I like the way his arms move, the muscles tensing and pulling as he hauls himself up into the branches.
He plummets from the tree, arcing out over the river. He waits until the very top of his swing before letting go and then it's just the white-haried shape of him falling through air in a wild dive toward the water. When he hits, the splash is tremendous and frothy white. The rope tail is so long that it dangles in the water, trailing back and forth in the current.
He stays down a long time, and the seconds stretch out, heart-stopping as I stand on the bank, waiting for him to break the surface. When he finally comes up for air, it's in a huge, exuberant burst, water spraying away from his spread arms.
Finny splashes in the current, catching hold of the rope and then wading up onto the bank with it, water pouring off his shoulders and running down his arms. He shakes his head in a huge spray, like a dog, sending icy drops spattering against my face and my bare arms. The chill of it feels good in the dry, broiling heat.
He hands me the rope, helping me wind the end around my wrist. It's rough against my skin, and makes me think of being tied up somewhere, even though there's no evidence that any of the girls were restrained. Before I can help myself, I think choking, but Finny doesn't seem to see it on my face. He smiles at me and gives me a little shove toward the tree.
When I climb up to the jumping place, the air feels cooler as I make my way out over the river. The rope is thick and rough in my hands, fibers sticking into my palms. I stand balanced on the curve of the branch, looking down into the water. The bark is worn smooth from so many feet stepping in the exact same places.
"Do it," Finny says below me. "What are you waiting for?"
I glance down at him standing on the bank, dripping wet and grinning up at me with his jeans hanging soaked and heavy on his hips.
I want more than anything to let go of the rope, to clib down and kiss him, right now, with the wet fabric of his shirt sticking to his back and the sunlight streaming through the trees. But he's watching me, waiting to see what I'll do. If I'm going to chicken out or if I'm brave enough to jump.
I tug the rope once, just to feel the sturdiness of the knot, and then I grip it in both hands and step off into space. At first, there's nothing but the clear, empty sensation of falling, falling. I'm plunging away from the horror and the blinding sun, the scrapbook full of dead girls, the claustrophobic cocoon of my room, and the heat.
Then the rope jerks taut in my hands, and I'm carried up, sailing over the river like a dandelion seed.
"Let go!" Finny shouts from the bank. He's laughing up at me, waving his arms for me to do it.
Suddenly, letting go seems like a wonderful idea, a terrible idea, and when I do, the feeling is like nothing I've ever felt. I'm rising up, up, and then, for one breathless second, I am perfectly still. For that glittering moment, I stay suspended in space, caught in the wash of hot dry air and sunlight before gravity takes me and I plummet.
The water is freezing. I hit the surface, and the current sucks me straight down to the bottom of the river. It's pure runoff, and even the heat of hundred-defree days hasn't done much to warm it up. There's a rush of gritty sand under my fingers, and my skin feels brittle, like it might crack into pieces. There's a pressure in my chest, huge and aching, and I kick my legs once and strike for the surface.
I come up gasping, and as soon as my head breaks the surface, I yelp shrilly in the still, silent air, trying to catch my breath.
Finny is still up on the bank, hugging his ribs, laughing with his blech-white hair plastered against his forehead and falling down in his eyes, and his shirt stuck to his chest. "How's the water?"
I start to paddle for the bank, still gasping for breath. My ribcage feels so cold that my lungs don't want to work. I'm just struggling up the riverbed into shallower water when I stub my toe on a jutting shelf of rock and almost fall. I stop and look down, trying to see where to put my feet.
And then I scream.
Floating in the current just below the surface is the body of Hailey Martinsen. (Chapter 13, pgs. 172-176)