We are the Wild Ones, and we will not be silenced.
From author Nafiza Azad comes a thrilling, feminist fantasy about a group of teenage girls endowed with special powers who must band together to save the life of the boy whose magic saved them all. Read an excerpt below from The Wild Ones, available August 3rd from Margaret K. McElderry Books.
We are the Wild Ones, and we will not be silenced.
We are girls who have tasted the worst this world can offer. Our story begins with Paheli, who was once betrayed by her mother, sold to a man in exchange for a favor. When Paheli escaped, she ran headlong into Taraana—a boy with stars in his eyes, a boy as battered as she was. He tossed Paheli a box of stars before disappearing. With the stars, Paheli gained access to the Between, a place of pure magic and mystery. Now, Paheli collects girls like us, and we use our magic to travel the world, helping to save other girls from our pain, our scars.
When Taraana reappears, he asks for our help. Dangerous magical forces are chasing him, and they will destroy him to get his powers. We will do everything to save him—if we can. For if Taraana is no longer safe and free, neither are the Wild Ones. And that…is a fate that we refuse to accept. Ever again.
Paheli: An Interlude in Blue
What do you do when your past pops up into your present to say hello? If you are me, you pretend you don’t see him for at least three whole minutes. A lot can happen in three minutes. Lives can get ruined. People can disappear. What was right can become wrong. When it becomes clear that none of these (especially the second) things is going to happen, I change my strategy. I try to blend in with the scenery. What is one more girl in a madness of girls? Right?
It is not my night.
The boy’s eyes calmly assess all of us. When it is my turn, he looks as if he is peering through my skin and bones right into that dark place where I hide all the things I don’t want to remember. The stars in his eyes brighten. He recognizes me as that broken creature he offered an escape to so many years ago. How, I don’t know. I don’t exactly resemble her anymore. She is gone now, that broken girl.
I am lying.
She is still here. Slumbering in the depths of me. Pro tip: You don’t ever get rid of your broken pieces. You just bury them as deeply as you can.
The boy and I stare at each other for a long moment. He is beautiful, so looking at him is no hardship. I notice that he has scars on one side of his face. I have scars too, though mine are all in places not visible to the eye. He is taller than I remember. Slender but solid. He moves with a fluidity that is kin to flowing water.
“I saved myself,” I tell him in lieu of a greeting. I might as well get it over with now. I don’t want any man taking the credit for my fight, for my life. He just opened a door for me; I stepped through that door all by myself. Actually, he didn’t even open that door. He just gave me a key.
The boy’s lips quirk and oh my goodness, he is dazzling. There is something broken about his smile, though. Like his lips aren’t quite at ease with what they’re doing. I know the feeling.
“I am glad you did,” he says. His voice has a bit of the night in it.
“What’s your name?” I can’t keep calling him “boy.” That’s rude. I’m a very polite young-old woman.
“Taraana,” he replies softly, as if he’s telling me a secret. Oh no, I am going to swoon. Wait, no, I am calm. He comes to stand beside Assi, who looks very much like his bodyguard. I bet she makes a good one with those sharp teeth of hers. Actually, all the middle worlders accompanying Assi and Taraana look like they could hold their own in a fight. One that doesn’t include screams. We could totally beat them.
“My name is Paheli,” I say brightly, keeping a smile on my face. “Starting from the right are: Widad, Daraja, Kamboja, Areum, Talei, Valentina, Etsuko, Sevda, Ghufran, and Ligaya. Collectively, we are known as the Wild Ones. . . .” He listens with rapt attention. It’s embarrassing. I clear my throat. “Thank you for the stars. You gave a chance to escape not just to me but to all my sisters. We owe you something. Ice cream?”
Something like wonder slips into the boy’s—sorry, Taraana’s—face as he looks at all of us once again and stays for a second before fading. He doesn’t seem to know how to respond to my gratitude. For some reason, this makes me like him more. But that’s not important at this moment. I narrow my eyes. What if the reason he called us here is because he wants his stars back?
“Why did you want to meet us? Why now? You could have reached out to us, to me, at any time in the past, but you didn’t. Why?” Perhaps my questions seem too aggressive, because Assi and her companions bristle. My sisters gather closer to me, and I wonder if I’m going to be handling blood. I hope not. I am wearing one of my favorite dresses.
Taraana places a hand on Assi’s shoulder and the woman glows. Whoa. I wonder what their relationship is. Or maybe the boy makes everyone he touches glow. He seems like he would.
“I will tell you, but . . .” He pauses, so I seize the chance.
“But not here,” I say. I look around the dark garden, bare of any flowers. The dark house promises ghosts, and I’m not in the mood to entertain hauntings. I want to talk to this boy but not in this place.
“It is not safe to talk elsewhere,” Assi says before the boy, Taraana, has a chance to respond.
“Why?” Valentina asks.
“That . . . ,” the boy says, looking at Assi, hesitating.
“What if I promise that we’ll keep him safe?” I say, and my sisters look at me as if I’ve just announced that I’m giving up desserts.
“How can we take your word for it? Do you think you’re strong enough to resist the monsters chasing him? Chasing us?” the middle worlder woman with green thorns sticking out of her neck says.
“Do you want a demonstration of our powers?” Our hotheaded Ligaya takes umbrage at the woman’s words.
“Fine, if you’re not willing, we’ll leave,” I say, and nod at Areum, who lays her open palm on the garden wall.
“Wait,” Taraana says, and we all look at him. He tugs at his collar and lowers his head. “I’ll go with you.”
“No, you won’t.” Assi immediately overrides him.
“Yes, I will, Assi. I need to do this.” His voice is firm, and the feather-haired woman’s lips flatten.
She looks at me, and her gaze promises to tear me into thin strips before she roasts me. Her gaze is very eloquent. “Keep him safe and bring him back.”
I look at the boy and raise both my eyebrows. He doesn’t seem to find her domineering. Huh. I wouldn’t like her attitude if I were him, but I’m not and I never will be. I just need to know what he has to say, and then I can return him to her and continue on my way. No big deal.
The boy walks over to me. He looks so lost that he reminds me of my girls. I grab his hand, intending to comfort. It’s an unconscious action and I mean to let go after I squeeze it, but he latches on. Great job, Paheli. He’s going to become a duckling and follow me around.
“Okay, let’s go. We’ll bring him to you once our conversation is done,” I tell the glowering Assi, and ignore the other middle worlders.
Areum places her right palm on the wall we were leaning against, and a second later, the lines of a rectangular door dissect the wall. She opens it and we follow her into the Between.
Excerpted from The Wild Ones, copyright © 2021 by Nafiza Azad.