The lives of three women—Katrina, Shizuka, and Lan—become entangled by chance and fate in Ryka Aoki’s Light From Uncommon Stars, a defiantly joyful adventure publishing September 28th with Tor Books. From the author:
Katrina is my favorite character because although she is a young trans woman fleeing trauma and abuse, she still yearns to find a way to express who she is, and the music she contains. She may deny herself, and even sell herself to survive, but she is always aware of her music, and she has never lost the hope that her music will guide her home.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt below—meet Katrina, and check back later this week for additional excerpts!
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.
But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.
Yes, it hurt. It was definitely not just a bruise. Yes, she was scared. Her throat was raw from screaming.
Cautiously, Katrina Nguyen felt under her bed.
Girl clothes. Boy clothes. Money. Birth certificate. Social security card. Toothbrush. Spare glasses. Backup battery. Makeup. Estradiol. Spironolactone.
Katrina had made an escape bag the first time her father threatened to kill her.
At first, the bag seemed an “in case of emergency,” a glass that one would never break.
But after tonight…
Why had she let it come to this? Why couldn’t she be what her parents wanted?
Part of her was in a panic. What have you done? Apologize. Knock on their door right now. Say it’s all your fault—say you’re sorry, say you’ll promise to change.
But another, stronger, part of Katrina was calm, even cold.
You have to escape. Tonight. Breathe, be quiet, and listen.
And so, Katrina listened… for footsteps, for breathing, for sleep. She listened, and listened. Through the dark, she heard her mother’s one last cough. Her father’s one last flush.
And then, finally, there was silence.
Katrina clutched her ribs, then propped herself up. The pain was sharp, but manageable. She was in her room, behind a locked door. All she needed to do was be quiet. And calm. She could do this.
She could do this.
By the light of her phone, Katrina applied concealer around her eye and to her cheek. It would be better not to face the world with visible bruises.
Then she placed a note on her bed.
In it, she had written that she was sorry, that she wished she’d never been born, that she didn’t want to make them angry, and that she’d never bother them again. That part was true.
But then she wrote that she was going San Francisco.
There’d be no reason to doubt her; of course she would go there. That’s where the queers went. Her father would punch the wall, throw something heavy and breakable; her mother would cross herself and utter a prayer. In a day or two, her mother would call Tía Claudia across the Bay to find their stupid son and send him home.
By that time, though, she’d be almost four hundred miles away.
Silently, Katrina put on her coat. She slid open her bedroom window. Outside, there was noise from a police helicopter, noise from some family next door. There was noise from the highway, from nice cars leaving and less-nice cars coming home. Yet, Katrina moved steadily, almost gracefully, as she gathered what she needed.
Ticket. Laptop. Escape bag.
Then Katrina crawled atop her desk, and dropped to the ground. Mercifully, adrenaline overrode her pain. She reached up, slid the window closed, and looked at her phone.
Good. There was still time. As quickly as she could, Katrina limped past the neighbors, the highway, the cars, the police helicopter overhead. She’d catch BART to Oakland, then find somewhere to wait out the night.
In the morning, she’d get on a big white bus to Los Angeles.
Those who’ve never ridden a big white Asian bus probably never will. These buses don’t load at Greyhound bus depots or train stations. Instead, one catches them at an Asian shopping center or supermarket.
Some are Vietnamese, a few are Korean; many are Chinese. Some trek to Las Vegas. Others shuttle to the casinos of Morongo, Pechanga, San Manuel. Yet another subset runs along a network of Asian communities throughout the state. Oakland Chinatown, San Francisco Chinatown, Little Saigon. San Diego Chinatown.
And, of course, fleets of them converge on the San Gabriel Valley—Rosemead, San Gabriel, Monterey Park, and the rest of the Asian-American Holy Land.
“I think girl,” the woman said. She didn’t bother whispering. So what if the kid could hear? They were speaking Cantonese; the young ones were either Americanized or learning Mandarin.
“Not girl!” the other woman insisted. “Too ugly to be girl.”
“But she’s wearing makeup!”
There was silence.
“Too ugly to be girl,” she finally agreed.
“Definitely boy. To be a girl would be sad.”
“Yes, so sad.”
Those women were around her mother’s age—they could have been her mother’s friends. She didn’t need to understand them to understand them, for it blended with the chatter that she heard every day.
Katrina didn’t try to block their words; she had given up on that long ago. Instead, Katrina leaned her head against the window and listened… to the voices of the women, the drone of the engine, the roar of a passing truck. She listened to the pain in her ribs, the throbbing keeping time with each swerve and a bump in the road. It was all music.
Let it be music. If she could make it music, Katrina knew there would a place where she could breathe. A place where she could rest.
She cradled her violin. She heard a melody.
Finally, Katrina Nguyen let herself sleep.
Katrina checked her phone. Good, she had signal. Quickly, she sent another text to Evan. She hadn’t worked out the details, but she’d settle in with Evan for a while, find a job, then start making more music videos.
Beyond that? She’d figure it out.
Katrina winced as the bus shifted lanes. She clutched her violin and eventually drifted back to sleep.
When she next awoke, the bus was rumbling off of Rosemead Boulevard and into the parking lot of Shun Fat, a huge Asian wholesale market and restaurant supply complex. Already, people were waiting to pick up relatives.
Katrina tried to wake herself as she got off the bus and waited at the sidewalk for her bag. The two old women studied her and whispered. One pointed at her face.
Katrina touched her face, then looked down at her sleeve. Crap. While asleep, her foundation had rubbed off. Which meant they saw the bruises. Her black eye…
These old ladies were strangers; their looks couldn’t hurt her. Their stares and judgments were nothing compared with what she had been through. She told herself that this shouldn’t hurt. It was nothing.
And nothing shouldn’t hurt at all.
Excerpted from Light From Uncommon Stars, copyright © 2021 by Ryka Aoki.