A signed copy of The Smallest Thing + $50 Amazon gift card.
The Smallest Thing
by Lisa Manterfield
Publication date: July 18th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
The very last thing 17-year-old Emmott Syddall wants is to turn out like her dad. She’s descended from ten generations who never left their dull English village, and there’s no way she’s going to waste a perfectly good life that way. She’s moving to London and she swears she is never coming back.
But when the unexplained deaths of her neighbors force the government to quarantine the village, Em learns what it truly means to be trapped. Now, she must choose. Will she pursue her desire for freedom, at all costs, or do what’s best for the people she loves: her dad, her best friend Deb, and, to her surprise, the mysterious man in the HAZMAT suit?
Inspired by the historical story of the plague village of Eyam, this contemporary tale of friendship, community, and impossible love weaves the horrors of recent news headlines with the intimate details of how it feels to become an adult—and fall in love—in the midst of tragedy.
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Lisa Manterfield is the award-winning author of I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood. Her work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Los Angeles Times, and Psychology Today. Originally from northern England, she now lives in Southern California with her husband and over-indulged cat. A Strange Companion is her first novel.
By the afternoon, the first invaders of our village have arrived in a caravan of vehicles. They form a camp inside the barricade, as if the circus has come to town. Heeding Dad’s warning to stay inside, I press against the upstairs window, gaping as trucks and buses disgorge an army of aliens—doctors, scientists, investigators, and, for all I know, assassins, given that they all look the same, sealed inside their yellow hazmat suits. They spill into Eyam as if someone has knocked the lid off an ant farm, each ant preprogrammed to go about its task, as if quarantining innocent people and taking over their lives is the kind of thing they do every day. They’re robots, not humans, doing their work, oblivious to the fact that real people’s lives have just been upended, that my life has been turned upside-down.
I’m overcome with an urge to run, to make a break for it and take my chances at the barricades. But something else has arrived in my village. Guns. They are not the polished, tended shotguns of hunters. These new guns are brandished for enforcement, black gashes to keep us in our once-tranquil village. I have never seen weapons like this before, and the shock of their threat terrifies me. I am living in a war zone.
My phone pings and Ro’s name flashes on my screen.
You OK? he types. Where are you?
I tell him I’m at home.
Bloody Nora, is his only response, and yet his shock touches a spot deep in my chest.
I need to see you, I type.
I know we’re supposed to stay in, but I just want to see you.
Can’t, he writes back. Won’t let anyone near the quarantine zone.
The room seems to slide away from me as I feel the distance between Ro and me stretch. From the first night we met, when Ro’s band played a pop-up gig at the village Bonfire Night, everything has been set against us. But we always vowed to be a united front, to not allow anyone or anything to tell us we couldn’t be together. But this, this obstacle, is the first that feels truly insurmountable. I should be glad that Ro is safe, that his family’s farm is well outside the zone. Maybe this means the breakout is isolated, something they can control quickly, something that will be gone as fast as it came. Or perhaps it means that the suspected source is in the village, an invisible specter silently touching its victims. How do I know if it’s touched me? A brutal reality hits me. I could get sick, and I could die. My stomach twists around inside me, and the room begins to waver. What I want more than anything else right now is the thing I might never have again—to hold Ro and know I have an ally.
You OK? Ro asks.
I steady myself. My heart swells, and my eyes prickle. I had no idea this was what I needed to hear, that someone, one person, cares enough to ask if I’m okay.
I’m scared, I tell him, the admission catching me off guard. But I’m relieved at having someone to tell.
But, are you all right? he responds.
I realize then what he’s really asking me. Not whether I am anxious or afraid or confused or lost. He’s asking me if I am sick. If I think this thing is infectious. If there’s a chance I could have passed it to him. He’s not asking if I will be okay; he’s asking if he will be okay.
I square my shoulders, determined not to let this crumble me. Not now. Fine, I tell him, to answer his question. But to answer the question I wish he’d asked, I’m no longer sure I am fine at all.