“Holy crap! This book freaking powns!” That’s what fans are saying about Jefferson Smith's debut fantasy novel. Spunky and irreverent, 13-year-old Tayna is every villain’s worst nightmare: an uncooperative victim who refuses to play by his rules. When Lord Angiron arrives at the run-down city orphanage, ready to rescue her from her life of urban slavery, Tayna discovers that she may never have actually been an orphan in the first place and flees both him and her nunnish captivity to search for her real family. But time is running out and she has two entire worlds to search: one filled with shopping malls and televisions, and another filled with Brownies, Djin and magic!
"It's a delightful book. Filled with imagination!!! Loved it and can't wait for the next one in the series. I got it on a whim but once I started to read it I was hooked. Couldn't put it down."–Ms. Sharon on Amazon
"I already reviewed this wonderful book on Amazon, but I will take the time to do so again out of the sheer amazingness of this book. It was a book of magic, friendship, and so much more. I love the characters and how well they are developed, especially Abeni and Elicand. The Djin are brilliantly written up, as well as the imagery of the Gnomileshi. I can't wait to read the second book."–Jennifer Varnadore on Goodreads
"Like Alice in Wonderland, yet another kind of unique altogether [...] This is a heart warming story about friendship and the discovery of magic! The writing was beautiful and the descriptive words provided me with a vivid imagination. [...] It was quite adrenaline junkie and lively. Plus, I find myself laughing at Tayna's jokes. I love the characters, they are like a breath of fresh air, each with unique and distinct personality yet a part of a whole."–Natshane on Goodreads
“They’re coming!” Eliza ran into the dingy little room with wild excitement in her eyes and very little breath in her lungs. All around her, children’s eyes snapped up from their sewing and cleaning activities.
“Wannabes! Real swanky. She’s wearing a fur coat—I think it’s real— and they came in a limo. They’re coming up the stairs right now.”
“So what, Lies? Hasn’t anybody ever told you? Nobody ever comes to the fifth floor, except Sister Regalia, and she only ever comes up here to give us more work.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you guys,” Eliza said. “They didn’t stop on four. They’re coming here!”
The girls stared at her in disbelief, and then, suddenly, the room was electric, punctuated with shrieks of panic. Nobody was dressed for an interview! What would they say? How should they behave? These were the so-called Unlovables—the girls who had done so poorly in the few interviews they’d ever been granted that the Goodies had moved them to the fifth floor, so that they wouldn’t mess things up for the other, more likable girls. You know, when the wanna-dads and mommy-bes came by to inspect the latest stock and select their coordinating family accessories? But they never came here. The fifth floor was where all the scratch-and-dent merchandise was stored, the difficult girls, who were expected to work for their keep until they reached the age of sixteen, which is when the government would stop paying for their care and the Good Sisters could legally turn them out onto the streets. To make room for other, more profitable orphans. Of the twelve girls in the ward, several had been interviewed repeatedly before finally being declared Unlovable. But it was not to any of these grizzled veterans that the now panic-stricken group looked for advice. Instead, all heads turned to a single, raven-haired girl in the corner. She was the queen of rejection, the most unlovable of all the Unlovables, the girl so obviously lacking in adoptable qualities that she had never been given even a single interview and had been moved to the fifth floor on her very first day.
When she was just three years old.
In the ten years since then, Tayna still hadn’t received so much as a request for an interview, not one, but she had seen it all. She knew every trick in the book. If there was a trick that Tayna didn’t know about getting girls adopted, it was a trick that didn’t work. No matter that they never seemed to work for her—they had always worked well for other girls. So now, every eye in the room was on her.
The pressure of eleven desperate, pleading faces dragged her out of the book she had been rebinding, and she looked intently from one terrified face to the next. Finally, she closed her book and stood up. “All right. Let’s do it.” She looked a question at Eliza, who was standing vigil by the door.
“They’ve stopped to tour the junior bunks. You’ve only got a couple of minutes.”
“Right! Let’s go!” Tayna clapped her hands enthusiastically, jolting the entire room out of their fear-trances in the process. “Let’s partner up. Everybody raise your right hand.”
The girls threw their hands immediately into the air. Beside her, four-year-old Rachel was holding up her left. Tayna pushed the errant hand back down, and pulled up on the other, which was determinedly clutching a small, plastic toy camera. “This one’s your right, Rake,” she said quietly, as she took the camera and hung it by its cord around the girl’s neck.
“Okay, now everybody grab somebody else’s hand. Whoever you grab, that’s your partner. No swapsies.”
After a few frantic moments, the girls had all arranged themselves into pairs, with hands clenched in the air between them. “Your job now,” Tayna said “Is to look your partner over and find everything major that needs to be done. Neat hair, clean face, tidy clothes. Everything tucked in. Socks up. Sleeves down. Tallest girl in each pair inspects the shorter girl first. Go!”
The girls were accustomed to Tayna’s quick, decisive instructions— especially when something important had to be done quickly. She was a quick thinker and fearless about taking action once the decision was made, a quality that her ward-mates had learned to trust. As soon as she said “Go,” the shorter girl in each pair began to turn slowly, allowing her partner to scrutinize every inch of her appearance as she rhymed off a list of the most serious issues.
Tayna pointed out a few things for little Rachel to fix, and then she glanced toward Eliza, who turned away from her partner to check the hall again. Eliza shrugged uncertainly, so Tayna turned back to the task at hand.
“Okay, now everybody switch,” she said. “Short girls inspect the tall ones. After you’re done, both of you can take a minute to fix up whatever your partner suggested.”
The other half of the group began to rotate. Rachel tugged at Tayna’s sleeve, trying to get her to turn, but the older girl just smiled down at her. “Don’t worry about me, Rake. Any mommy-be that I could stand to live with will like me just the way I am. If she gets hung up on little stuff like this, I could never fit into her life anyway.”
As the girls attended to their personal grooming, Tayna looked toward the door again. “How much time, Lies?” Eliza opened the door a hair and checked the hallway again.
“Still clear. They’re getting the full tour, but they won’t be long. Better hurry.”
Tayna nodded. “Right. We don’t have time for anything fancy. We’ll just go with your basic Smile Parade.” She stepped forward into the center of the room, facing the door and held her arms out to the sides. “Give me the two smallest girls on my left and right. Uh, Rake and Amanda.” She paused for a moment while a couple of girls shuffled away and made room for those two girls to move in. “Now the next tallest beside them, and then the next tallest, and so on.” There were only a few minor collisions as the girls got themselves sorted out. While they were doing that, Tayna excused herself from the line and went to the door to see for herself. The shadows spilling out into the hall were now coming from the open door of the senior bunk-room. The tour was almost done.
“Okay, when I say go, everybody goes back to the job they were doing before Lies came in. This always works better when they think they’ve surprised us. As soon as Sister Regalia opens the door, you all run back to the position you’re in now, got it? When you get lined up again, each of you turn to look at your neighbor and pretend to adjust something on her shirt or hair. Then turn and give the hubby your biggest smile, and I mean big. Ham it up. Try to split your face in half. The wanna-dads always think it’s great how committed you are and the mommy-bes love anything that gets him to show an interest.”
“Tayna?” Little Amanda had her hand in the air.
“What is it ’Anda?”
“I don’t know if I can remember all that.”
Tayna smiled and hunkered down a little. “It’s okay kiddo. Just look at who’s beside you now. Rachel and Becky. All you have to do is make sure you get back in line between them when the door opens, okay?” The little girl nodded. “And once you’re in line, give ’em your biggest smile. But don’t worry if you make a mistake. They’ll just think it looks cute.”
Suddenly, Eliza went stiff at the door. “Incoming!”
Tayna spun around. “Okay! Everybody back to your jobs until the door opens.” Then she crossed back to her work table, sat down and picked up the old book with the broken spine. The other girls raced back to their own tables in record time, but not a one of them was actually working. Only a few actually looked, but every girl in the room was focused intently on the door knob, like sprinters waiting for the starter’s pistol. And behind those eyes, each and every girl was deep into the what-if game. What if this time it’s me who gets an interview? What if they decide they like me? Would they ask me to come live with them, like a real family, with my own room and a cat and a gramma who likes to bake? The only sound was the clicking and clanking of the old radiator in the corner and Becky’s shoes rubbing nervously together.
Then the light vanished from beneath the door and it began to swing in. “...and we can store the rest of them in here.” Sister Regalia strode into the room, talking briskly to somebody behind her. Tayna realized instantly that something was wrong, but before she could stop them, the girls were already scrambling into position. The parade line formed perfectly in front of the door, with each girl turning to check her neighbor for last-minute lint and stray hairs. Then they hit the high-beams, turning on their maximum, high-voltage smiles, any one of which was bright enough to melt the hearts of a Porscheful of divorce lawyers. But it still wasn’t enough to thaw even an eyelash off the scowl of Sister Regalia. When the senior Sister turned back to face the room and saw the crisp line-up of beaming faces, she stopped short.
And then she laughed.
She laughed so hard, she nearly doubled over. The eyes of every girl in the room widened in surprise when the old nun actually slapped her thigh in delight and then had to place both hands on her knees to keep from collapsing to the floor. “Who, who, a who taught you to do that?” she asked, struggling for breath. Then she caught Tayna glaring at her from her place at the end of the line. Regalia smiled cruelly and drew herself upright, the laughter draining quickly from her face. “Oh! Tayna, was it? Well that’s just priceless!” She turned to the other two people in the hallway: crazy-eyed Sister Anthrax and a short, ill-kempt and rather hairy looking man. Tayna couldn’t recall seeing him before.
“Get a load of this bunch!” she said. “They actually thought you were parents, coming up here to visit them!” The man chuckled noncommittally, as though he wasn’t sure exactly what the joke was, but Sister Anthrax threw herself into her own convulsions of laughter as Regalia turned back to the girls. The faces that had so recently been beaming with excitement, were now beginning to lose their focus, as the girls realized that this Smile Parade might not be proceeding according to plan. Rachel was the only one who didn’t seem to understand and she was busily snapping pictures of anybody and everybody with her toy camera while the scene played out around her.
“Hasn’t anybody told you?” Regalia asked the group, while snatching the toy from Rachel’s hand and tossing it into the garbage pail next to the door. “You’re the Unlovables. Don’t you know what that means?” She looked up and down the line. “It means that it isn’t possible for any worthwhile person to actually love you. Why on Earth would I waste my time bringing people up here to meet children as hopeless as you? I’ve got much better things to do with my time, you can be sure.” Her keen eyes flicked past the girls to the tables, still laden with unfinished tasks. “And by the looks of it, so have you. Now stop this ridiculousness and get back to work.” Then she turned to her companions. “Never mind. We don’t need to look in here after all,” she said. “Once you’ve seen one storage room full of rejects and throw-aways, you’ve seen them all.” With that, she turned and marched out of the room, pulling the door closed behind her with a bang.