Excerpt and Giveaway: Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein (US Only)
Becoming Jinn (Book 1) & Circle of Jinn (Book 2)
by Lori Goldstein
Release date: April 21, 2015 (Book 1), May 17, 2016 (Book 2)
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan
About the Books
Forget everything you thought you knew about genies!
Azra has just turned sixteen, and overnight her body lengthens, her olive skin deepens, and her eyes glisten gold thanks to the brand-new silver bangle that locks around her wrist. As she always knew it would, her Jinn ancestry brings not just magical powers but the reality of a life of servitude, as her wish granting is controlled by a remote ruling class of Jinn known as the Afrit.
To the humans she lives among, she’s just the girl working at the snack bar at the beach, navigating the fryer and her first crush. But behind closed doors, she’s learning how to harness her powers and fulfill the obligations of her destiny.
Mentored by her mother and her Zar “sisters”, Azra discovers she may not be quite like the rest of her circle of female Jinn . . . and that her powers could endanger them all. As Azra uncovers the darker world of becoming Jinn, she realizes when genies and wishes are involved, there’s always a trick.
To learn more about this book and see our review, go HERE.
Circle of Jinn
Being Jinn is Azra’s new reality. As she grants wishes under the watchful eye of the Afrit council, she remains torn between her two worlds—human and Jinn. Soon, secrets spill. Zars are broken. Humans become pawns. And rumors of an uprising become real as the Afrit’s reach extends beyond the underground world of Janna.
Straddling the line becomes impossible. Aware of her unique abilities, Azra must not just face but embrace her destiny. But when the role she must play and those she must protect expand to include a circle of Jinn greater than her own, Azra will be forced to risk everything. A risk that means there’s everything to lose, and at the same time, everything to gain—for herself and her entire Jinn race.
In this dramatic sequel to Becoming Jinn, Azra’s story comes to a heartfelt and thrilling conclusion.
Note from the Author
Jinn are the new vampires, or so I’ve been told. In the past year, I’ve been fortunate to travel to more than fifty events across the country in support of the release of BECOMING JINN, the first in my two-book series, which released in April of 2015. The refrain of “Jinn are the new vampires” is one I heard again and again, partly because it’s true (though as a superfan of vampires and especially The Vampire Diaries, vamps certainly don’t need replacing in my mind). But if some magical/supernatural creature does need to fill their shoes, I’m glad it’s the Jinn. The lore surrounding the Jinn, a spirit creature core to cultures in North Africa and the Middle East, spans centuries and is deep and extensive. There’s much that’s primed for the plucking. While BECOMING JINN, which I call a modern spin on the tale of wish-granting genies, is set in our contemporary world, the mythology of the Jinn and the cultures that believe in this spirit informed the world and the characters I created. BECOMING JINN, and the upcoming sequel and final book in the series, CIRCLE OF JINN (May 17, 2016), follows the main character, Azra, from the day she receives the silver bangle that releases her magical powers and forces her to start granting wishes. Azra struggles to find her place in the world, not quite fitting in with her fellow Jinn but also not at ease in the world of the humans around her. While this is a fantasy, Azra’s issues are real and relatable for teens (and adults). I loved bringing her to life and creating her Jinn world, and I couldn’t be happier to be part of the “Jinn is the new vampire” trend.
Right now, the ebook of BECOMING JINN is on sale for only $2.99 through April 4 at all online e-retailers, and a free prequel short story, GENIUS OF JINN, was just released as an ebook. CIRCLE OF JINN releases on May 17, 2016, and is available for preorder now. Signed preorders (which come with special swag) are available from my local indie, Porter Square Books.
First three chapters of BECOMING JINN
A chisel, a hammer, a wrench. A sander, a drill, a power saw. A laser, a heat gun, a flaming torch. Nothing cuts through the bangle. Nothing I conjure even makes a scratch.
I had to try, just to be sure. But the silver bangle encircling my wrist can’t be removed. It was smart of my mother to secure it in the middle of the night while I was asleep, unable to protest.
Though my Jinn ancestry means magic has always been inside me, the rules don’t allow me to begin drawing upon it until the day I turn sixteen. The day I receive my silver bangle. The day I officially become a genie.
I slam my newly acquired accessory against my bedroom closet, leaving a rounded indent on the wood door. The pristine, gleaming metal mocks me. For the rest of my life, I’ll go where I’m told, perform on command, and do it all without question.
Barefooted, I can’t kick the pile of tools without impaling myself. I settle for shoving the saw, but in the blade, a flash of gold reflects back at me. I’ve ignored the unusual sensation of hairs tickling my bare shoulders all morning . . . the new tap, tap, tap of my nails against the conjured metal . . . the hem of my pajama pants now flirting with my calf. Ignored just in case. Just in case this bangle wasn’t here to stay. But even my talent for denial is no match for my curiosity when it’s been piqued.
Standing at the bathroom mirror, my breath catches in my throat.
The deepening of my olive skin, the angling of my cheekbones, the lengthening of my torso. I’ve seen them all before. On my mother, who wears them like she owns them. Unlike me, who wears them like a rented Halloween costume.
I lay a finger on the bangle and push, watching it spin around my wrist. Somehow this thing stimulates my body to reach full maturity. As an inherently attractive species, this tends to make us Jinn . . . well, hot. I’m pretty sure it’s less a quid pro quo thing (thankfully, otherwise we Jinn would be the most shallow of species) and more an ancestral one, but then again, I’m not privy to the inner workings of the Afrit, the council that rules over our Jinn world.
I run my tongue along my bright white teeth and give thanks that my birthday falls during the summer. Not that I think the HITs (humans in training, aka teenagers) I go to school with would likely question this new and improved Azra Nadira staring back at me. Guess there are benefits to not being popular. Unlike other newbie Jinn, I certainly won’t need to change schools or even incite hushed rumors about plastic surgery. For me, one or two fibs about a to-die-for stylist and an oh-so-talented makeup artist will do. Laughably out of character, of course, but, again, there are benefits to not being popular.
Inspecting all the ways my body has been altered while my mind was unable to resist, I note a distinct lack of curves remains. Seriously, a little va-va-voom here or there (and by “there” I’m talking to you, status quo B cup) was too much to ask?
I upend the basket next to the sink. A pair of nail clippers clanks against the marble counter, landing in between dental floss and a barely used compact of blush. I drum my nails, now as luminous as ten perfectly polished pearls, against the cold stone and brandish the nail clippers like a sword.
I knew this was coming. Click. I grew up knowing this was coming. Click. But still a part of me believed something would stop it. Click. Maybe my mother would finally realize I was serious. Click. I’ve been begging her to find a way around me having to become a genie since I was old enough to understand what the word “destiny” meant. Click. Maybe the Afrit would decide my well-honed lack of enthusiasm was an insult to the long line of Jinn from which I descend. Click. Maybe they’d take one look at me and realize that, for the first time in Jinn history, powers should skip a generation. Click.
I turn on the faucet and watch with satisfaction as the tips of the long nails that replaced my short ones overnight swirl around the basin and disappear down the drain.
A lock of my newly long hair falls across my eye. With a puff, I blow it aside and drop the clippers on the counter. Peeking out from under the overturned basket is the pointy end of a pair of scissors.
Running away was never an option. Snip. I found that out when I was ten, twelve, and fourteen. Snip. My Jinn blood is the equivalent of a permanent tracking device. Snip. And now it’s not just my mother who can find me anywhere, anytime. Snip. The Afrit will be watching. Snip. If I refuse to grant wishes, if I screw up, if I expose our Jinn world to humans, I will be extracted from this human life I’m pretending to live.Snip. I’ll be tossed in a cell deep inside the Afrit’s underground lair where they sit, rubbing their hands together and cackling as they toy with us Jinn pawns. Snip. It’s not a death penalty. Snip. As much as it may feel like it is. Snip.
A blanket of dark espresso hair surrounds my feet. I’ve sheared off the three inches that are new since yesterday and then some. The color, which morphed from mouse to mink while I slept, is an exact match for my mother’s. That can stay. The sheen helps the choppy bob I’ve given myself look halfway decent.
They can make me grant wishes, but they can’t dictate what I’m going to look like while doing it.
I splash water on my face and feel the length of my eyelashes. The gold flecks of my eyes have consumed the hazel. The new color is an exact match not only for the color of my mother’s eyes but for the color of all Jinn’s eyes. And I can’t have that.
Lucky for me, my learning curve with this conjuring thing has been fast. One crooked wrench, one inoperable lighter, and one unrecognizable reciprocating saw preceded the plethora of tools turning my bedroom into a hardware store. And in all fairness, the mangled saw stems less from my lack of skill and more from my ignorance as to what a reciprocating saw actually looks like.
Just as I did when conjuring each tool, I steady my breathing, tune my ears to the beat of my heart, which pumps my Jinn blood at a rate closer to that of hummingbirds than humans, and close my eyes. In my mind, I form the perfect image of a pair of transparent contacts tinted dark brown.
An icy tingle snakes through my body. I shiver. My body craves heat. In all the ways I take after my mother—in all the ways I take after all Jinn—an intolerance for cold is the one that bothers me the least.
I concentrate until a bead of sweat forms on my upper lip and the slimy lenses float in a sea of saline in the palm of my hand.
Good-bye gold. Good-bye Jinn.
I plant my face an inch away from the mirror. With my index finger on my top lid and my thumb on my bottom, I create a larger bull’s-eye for the brown contact. My first attempt sends the lens down the drain. After conjuring another one, I force myself not to blink. I’m successfully affixing the lens to my eyeball when I notice my fingernails are once again long. And red.
My hair shoots past my chin, flies down my neck, and leaves my collarbone in the dust. Post-bangle, pre-haircut, it barely skimmed my shoulders. It now lands mid-B—Wait, is that now an A?—cupboob. The gold of my eyes deepens and shimmers until my irises resemble balls of compacted glitter.
Apparently the Afrit can dictate what I look like. I dump the contact lenses in the trash and poke my finger in and out of the intricate carvings etched into the bangle. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these indents housed a tiny spy camera and the Afrit were really just a bunch of pervy Peeping Toms.
I dive into my bed and burrow under the soft down of my comforter, grateful for its instant warmth. Ignoring the sound of the dog barking outside, I drink in the sweet smell of the lilacs in perpetual bloom in our backyard and catch a faint hint of sea beneath the floral perfume. Our house is close enough that, when the wind blows a certain way, we can smell the ocean. It doesn’t happen often, mostly because the windows are usually shut to seal in the warmth and the curtains are usually drawn to seal in, well, us.
I will myself to fall back to sleep. Even if I can’t sleep, I can still choose to skip today.
All I have to do is stay in bed. All I have to do is not open my eyes. All I have to do is pretend. Fortunately, being skilled in pretending is another way in which I take after my mother, another way in which I take after all Jinn.
Turning toward the window, I breathe in the lilacs. Along with the fragrance comes the pollen. Along with the pollen comes the coughing. Along with the coughing comes the involuntary opening of my eyes.
Who am I kidding? I can’t skip today. I don’t have that kind of control. The bangle assures that I never will.
I crawl out of bed and shed my pajamas, dropping them on top of the drill. Of course the black tank top I pull over my head and down my newly elongated torso is too short. As I move, the hem plays a game of peekaboo with my belly button, an unintentional homage to the midriff-baring genies of fairy tales and fantasies.
I rummage through the top drawer of my bathroom vanity until I find an elastic and the pair of bug-eyed sunglasses my mother bought for me last year. I gather my hair into a ponytail and hide my gold eyes behind the tinted shades. It’s summer. Well, almost summer. In New England, summer doesn’t debut until July. And only if we’re lucky. June is always a tease. Still, with tenth grade in the rearview mirror, I can camouflage my new look this way until school starts again. By then, no one will remember what I used to look like.
As if that’s a valid concern. I could walk into calculus tomorrow with rainbow-colored dreadlocks and half the class wouldn’t even blink an eye.
Being invisible is a trait I’ve learned all on my own.
The smell of chocolate fills my nostrils as I head down the stairs. The bracelet slides easily around my wrist but is in no danger of falling off. It doesn’t have to be tight like a handcuff to achieve the same effect.
I linger in the kitchen doorway. My mother gathers her long hair with one hand and secures it into a bun with the other. The silk of her emerald kaftan glides across her body, accentuating her graceful movements and making them appear all the more effortless. She leans over our farmhouse table and pushes back her sleeves.
I wrap my hand around my silver bangle. It is identical to the one around my mother’s wrist except for the color. Hers, like that of all retired Jinn, shines a deep gold. The same color as her—now, our—eyes.
“Happy birthday, kiddo.” As she takes in my appearance, she shakes her head. “Nice touch with the sunglasses. Very movie star incognito. But the way you’re strangling those pretty new locks is criminal.”
I lower the shades so she can see my eyes rolling. Flipping the end of my ponytail, I say, “How else am I supposed to explain the sudden change in length? I’m not the type of girl to get hair extensions. I don’t want people to think I’m the type of girl who would get hair extensions.”
“Because they’ll think you’re vain? Or be jealous?” My mother laughs. “Believe me, they’ve been jealous all along. Yesterday, even I would have sworn you couldn’t look any more beautiful.” She smiles. “But I’d have been wrong.”
Despite or maybe because of what I’ve seen in the mirror, I dismiss her compliment. It’s actually my mother who has the capacity to stun. I’ve spent fifteen, no, sixteen, years looking at her, and her beauty still catches me by surprise.
She returns her attention to her pastry bag and with a gentle squeeze pipes the second “a” of my name in gold icing. Azra. The letters shimmer atop the chocolate-frosted cake. I know from previous birthdays how sugary the combination is, but nothing’s too sweet for us. Salt, we are sensitive to, but the amount of sugar we eat would incite comas in humans.
She underlines my name with a squiggle of gold. Then she pipes that loaded “16” underneath. The exclamation mark she adds causes me to use my long fingernails to scratch at the skin underneath my bangle.
“So,” my mother says, “just in case your stubbornness kept you under the covers for the better part of the day, I scheduled the party for tonight.”
The groan that escapes my lips is a reflex. She knows I don’t want this party because she knows I don’t want this birthday.
At least the guest list is short. It’s not like I have any friends from school. Having to hide who we are from humans means our social circle consists solely of fellow Jinn.
My mother wanted to invite all five of the female Jinn who make up her Zar, the lifelong friends she calls her “sisters,” and their daughters, who, once we all reach sixteen, will officially make up mine. But I negotiated her down to justSamara, my mother’s best friend, and her daughter, Laila, whom my mother has been desperate for me to make my best friend since we were born. They’re the closest I have to a family.
My mother then makes me promise to be good, like I’m turning six instead of sixteen.
“I’d appreciate it if you could dial down the attitude for the party,” she says. “Laila hasn’t turned yet. Let her be excited, okay?”
She sinks sixteen candles into the smooth icing, and I promise to try. But I know it’s a promise I won’t be able to keep. The only way I could is if the wish I make when I blow those candles out comes true and this band magically falls off my wrist. But I know better. Birthday candles, eyelashes, shooting stars, that’s not how wishes are granted. Being selected by the Afrit, that’s what makes wishing so.
Even if I don’t get a birthday wish, I should be able to spend the day however I want, wherever I want. Sun, sand, and a book. Maybe mussels for lunch. Considering we live less than ten minutes from a four-mile-long sandy shoreline, that’s a wish even a newbie genie like myself could easily grant.
“If the party isn’t until later,” I say, “we can spend the whole day at the beach, right?”
“We could,” my mother says, “but I think we need to start practicing.”
The perfectly decorated cake leaps from the counter, beelining for my head. My instinct to duck kicks in a second after my instinct to throw my hands in the air. The cake freezes, hovering three feet above the hand-painted Moroccan tile floor.
I walk a circle around it, amazed not that the mass of chocolate is floating but that I’m the one making it float. Unlike the magic I’ve been doing upstairs in my room, this just happened. It was automatic. Something engaged even before my brain could.
I admit it. Having powers doesn’t suck. If only they didn’t come with being told when and how to use them.
“Who needs practice?” I say with confidence, despite the quiver in my hands.
Crumbs fly and chocolate icing splatters the dark cherry cabinets as the cake plummets to the floor. The three-second rule doesn’t even get a chance to be applied, for the cake reassembles in perfect form in less time than it takes to blink.
My mother smiles and places her hands on her curvy hips. “Practice? Certainly not me.”
No, my mother doesn’t need practice. She’s been doing magic since before I was born. Since the day she turned sixteen, probably even earlier. The rules were different back then.
I wipe the single leftover dollop of brown off the kitchen table. As I suck the icing from my finger, my heart pounds. I have no idea how I summoned the magic that suspended the cake in midair or if I can do it again. I’m as curious as I am terrified to find out.
“Now, Azra, now!”
At this moment, my mother is the one terrified. With good reason.
Flames from the inferno I ignited lick the shelf above the fireplace, threatening to consume her collection of Russian nesting dolls.
“Concentrate like I showed you!” My mother springs back from the stone hearth as a flickering yellow flame paws at her foot. “Like you did before.” She positions herself behind her favorite pumpkin-colored armchair, more willing to sacrifice it than her hand-beaded slippers. “With the cake.”
“I am,” I grumble, even though I’m not. We’ve been at it all morning. My mother’s aggressive agenda has taken the magic right out of these lessons. Memorizing the periodic table was more fun than this.
Her worried eyes dart toward the mantelpiece, and the rosy-cheeked Russians dance over our heads, landing safely on the couch.
“This isn’t working,” I say, upending the empty bucket in my hand. I release my grip, and the metal pail falls to the floor with a hollow clank. The drops of water I’ve managed to conjure are less than the amount of saliva I could summon sans magic. “How about we compromise and I turn the faucet on with my mind?”
An ember hurtles past the hearth and lands on the antique Turkish prayer rug. My mother stamps it out and shakes her head. “Come on, Azra. Dig deeper than your surface instincts. This isn’t hard.”
“For you.” The frustration in my voice just slips out.
And an admonishment stabs right back.
A zap! ten times stronger than a shock from a shuffle across a wool rug pierces the back of my neck. The source of my electric jolt materializes a second later. Yasmin, one of my Zar “sisters.”
Having arrived via Jinn teleportation, she quickly drops the red clay pot she’s holding onto the coffee table and shouts, “Lalla Kalyssa, watch out!”
Sable-black hair flying behind her, Yasmin rushes to the fireplace, nudging (more like shoving) my mother aside. With less effort than it takes to inhale deeply, Yasmin conjures a wall of water that douses the sizzling fire. The charred logs eke out a final hiss as she dissipates the resulting smoke before it fills the room.
“Phew!” she says, tossing her long hair off her shoulder. “Good thing I apped when I did.”
This is my first time sensing an apporting Jinn. Turns out, it’s less like being licked by a puppy and more like being stung by a wasp.
Or in Yasmin’s case, a swarm of wasps.
By mutual unspoken agreement, we haven’t seen each other in months. For me, these few seconds are enough to reinforce why.
“I mean,” Yasmin says, thrusting back her shoulders, “someone could have gotten hurt.”
The muscles in my jaw tense, preventing me from returning her condescending smile. Though, since it’s always condescending, I should just call it her smile.
My mother straightens her kaftan. “Thank you, Yasmin. Azra was just about to conjure the water. And if not, well . . .” She twiddles her fingers. “I would have never let her get hurt.”
“Oh, yes, of course.” For once, the patronizing tone is missing from Yasmin’s voice. She blinks her thick eyelashes and lowers her gold eyes. “I didn’t mean to imply you couldn’t have conjured the water, Lalla Kalyssa.”
“Lalla” is a term of endearment and respect often used when speaking to a female Jinn one is very close to, kind of like how humans refer to family friends as “aunt” or “uncle” even though they aren’t related by blood. I almost believe Yasmin’s usage is sincere.
“Anyway . . .” Yasmin waves her silver-bangled hand. “My mom wanted me to return your tagine.”
Running a finger along the conical dish, my mother says, “The original this time. Not a conjured replica. Thank her for that.” She floats the red-glazed tagine straight from Marrakesh, which she swears is better than any magic can create, into the kitchen. “And thank you for bringing it, Yasmin. Though I did expect you yesterday. I had planned to start cooking Azra’s special dish this morning.”
Back straight as a rod, Yasmin places a hand on her heart. “My apologies, Lalla Kalyssa. I forgot you like to spend all day cooking. Like a human.”
She smiles, and I expect to see fangs. She’s always seemed more serpent than genie.
She slithers closer as her almond-shaped eyes scan my body. “At least your bangle didn’t do much to improve—” She covers her mouth with her hand. “Sorry, I mean change your appearance, Azra.” She flips her hair. “We had to move states.”
This bangle may change a lot of things, but it doesn’t change this: Yasmin getting under my skin in less than five minutes. This time though, instead of scratching and walking away, I burrow right back under her perfect complexion.
“Really?” I raise an eyebrow. “I thought it had something to do with a sloppy lottery rigging. Right about the time you started granting wishes . . .”
Yasmin’s flared nostrils are at odds with her syrupy tone. “Having trouble with the H2O?” She kicks the empty bucket with her foot. “Don’t worry, sweetie. Sometimes the Afrit wait months before assigning wish candidates. Me getting the hang of this in a day was probably a fluke.” She snorts. “Took Farrah weeks.”
Fluke? Sweetie? That’s. It. So what if Yasmin’s been an official Jinn for almost a full year? Older means older. Period. Not wiser. And sure as Jinn not better.
Narrowing my eyes, I glare at my silver bangle. My heels drive into the wood floor as I squeeze my eyes shut and focus on the thud thud, thud thud of my heart. The harshsquawkof a blue jay in the front yard. The traces of my mother’s vanilla perfume. The weight of the humidity in the air. Instead of letting it all distract me, I do as my mother instructed and absorb these elements of nature that surround me, welcoming them, internalizing them, commingling their energy with my own.
The sudden shock of current that shoots through my body ends in my fingertips. Water sloshes over the side of the pail, puddling around my bare feet. And Yasmin’s.
“Azra!” Yasmin leaps back. “These are lea-ther!”
My mother’s fleeting smirk doesn’t escape my notice as I shove my trembling fingers into my pockets. Still, I’m a bit surprised to hear her unsubtle sayonara.
“No harm done,” she says, drying Yasmin’s gold gladiator sandals with a swish of her hand. “There, you’re good to go. Thanks again for returning the tagine in time for Azra’s birthday.”
As if this reminds her, Yasmin tips her head in my direction. “Oh, yes. Happy Birthday, Azra.” She squares her shoulders and snaps her heels together. “See you later.”
And she’s gone. Disappeared. Like a snake down a hole.
The mutual unspoken agreement between my mother and I is not to acknowledge that Yasmin, like her mother, Raina, makes her skin as itchy as mine. Instead, she eases over to me, extracting my fists from my pockets. “Better than picturing a wrench, isn’t it?”
She’s referring to the way I conjured the tools earlier. Simple visualization is, according to my mother, the equivalent of a cheap parlor trick.
“Inelegant,” she says.
“But effective,” I say, nodding to the box of tools at the front door, poised for donation.
“Maybe, but we Nadiras are better than that, Azra. That’s textbook stuff. If you know how something looks and works, you can conjure it. The more intimately you know the item, the better you do.”
Hence my perfect hammer but my unidentifiable reciprocating saw.
“But,” she says, “we are not sideshow freaks. Our ability to harness the light and energy of this world allows us to manipulate the environment in ways two-bit charlatans can’t even fathom. We can access laws of nature that humans don’t even know exist. Until you ground all your magic in nature, your skills will be limited.”
My instinct is to dismiss her, but the tingle in my fingertips won’t let me.
She tucks a loose strand of hair back into her impromptu updo. “At least one benefit of Yasmin’s visit is we learned all you needed was a little encouragement.”
“Encouragement, condescension, fine line,” I say.
“Whatever works,” she says with a teasing glint in her eye.
A childhood of watching my mother perform magic made me fear I wouldn’t be any good at it, certainly not as good as her, someone who long ago earned the nickname “model Jinn” from her Zar sisters. But she’s always said that being descended from a long line of Jinn means magic lives inside me. Once I received my bangle, all I’d need to do is access it. Or as she’s been insisting all day, allow myself to access it. I hate proving her right.
Fanning her face with her hand, she says, “How about you prove just how encouraged you are by putting out the rest of the fires? I fear I’m on the verge of perspiring.”
I’ve never seen my mother sweat, literally or figuratively. But if she were going to, today would be the day. The house is stifling, even for us.
My magically ignited fires churn in the rest of the house’s nine fireplaces. Nine because we live in Massachusetts and hate to be cold. Nine because my mother, though no longer a wish-granting Jinn, still has her magic and can install fireplaces at will.
Though my hands still shake, all I have to do is think of Yasmin’s smug face and I’m able to conjure water instantly at the dining room fireplace. I make my way to the second floor, extinguishing all the flames that have transformed our house into a two-thousand-square-foot sauna.
My bedroom being last, the air is thick with heat. I raise the double-paned glass window all the way up before kneeling in front of the fire.
“I’m flying, Henry!”
I jerk upright, dousing myself and the hearth with my conjured water as the sound of the little girl from across the street penetrates my bedroom. I cross the room and pull the curtain aside.
The open back of the Carwyns’ small SUV is crammed with beach chairs, towels, one, no, two coolers, and an overflowing bucket of plastic toys. Mr. Carwyn, a bit rounder and grayer than the last time I saw him, shoves a bright green tote bag in between a large umbrella and a thickly folded plaid blanket as his six-year-old daughter, Lisa, soars down the driveway.
Head bent against the wind, arms straight out behind her, Lisa makes airplane noises as she circles the car. A shiver travels up my spine as she yells again to her older brother, “I’m flying, Henry!”
Ducking his head to get a glimpse through the open back, Henry yells, “Jumbo jet or single prop?”
“Jumbo!” Lisa comes in for a landing next to his passenger side door.
The top of Henry’s sandy-brown-haired head pokes out of the car. He leans down, picks Lisa up, and hauls her into the backseat. “I thought you looked like a 747,” he says.
A tired-sounding Mrs. Carwyn calls from the front passenger seat, “Ready, Hank?”
Mr. Carwyn’s grunt precedes him slamming the cargo door shut. He steps back, his flat palms aimed at the car, ready to shove the door closed again should it fail to latch on account of the family of four’s mountain of gear.
Mr. Carwyn’s halfway to the driver’s seat when the door begins to rise. All four Carwyn heads face forward, away from me.
Should I? Can I?
The “can” overcomes the “should,” and I test out my range. Click. The latch catches. Henry turns around. My heart catapults to my throat. But there’s no way he saw. Heard? Doubtful. Even so, he wouldn’t know what he heard.
Henry pushes a rainbow-striped beach chair to the side and cranes his neck to see out the back. He cocks his head and smiles. At me? Can he see me? Just in case, I smile back. We haven’t talked in a while. Not that when we do talk we say all that much. But still, some days, he’s the only one in school I have more than a “hi,” “hey,” or “’sup?” conversation with.
The thumbs-up he gives his father answers my question as the SUV then backs out of the driveway, headed for a day at the beach. There was a time, long ago, when I would have been strapped into the backseat, Henry on one side of me and Jenny on the other.
Before I release the curtain, I let myself seek out the “A+J” scrawled in the bottom right corner of the garage door. Faded as it is, I’m probably the only one who knows it’s more than a series of black scuff marks.
I know because I wrote it. I’m the “A,” and Jenny was the “J.”
For the first nine years of my life, Jenny Carwyn was my best friend. Jenny and I were born on the same day but not in the same place. As Mrs. Carwyn gave birth in a sterile hospital room ten miles away, my mother expelled me out into her jetted bathtub, surrounded by her Zar sisters.
Our entries into the world marked one of many differences, but Jenny and I were inseparable from the moment we became mobile. Before I could even talk, Mrs. Carwyn would find me on their doorstep, having somehow escaped my mother’s eye long enough to wander across the street.
Jenny, too, would have turned sixteen today.
“I’m flying, Azra! I’m flying!”
I close my eyes and see Jenny’s fingers wrapped around the metal chain next to me. Higher and higher, we rode the swings on the set in my backyard, me promising her that just a little more and we’d be able to touch the tulip-shaped cloud in the sky.
“I’m flying, Azra!”
She was. She did. And then all that was next to me was the metal chain.
The day she died was the day I realized magic couldn’t fix everything. It was the last day I wanted to become a Jinn. A Jinn like my mother. A Jinn like my grandmother. A Jinn like my great-grandmother. On and on, generation upon generation, we become Jinn. In exchange for granting wishes to humans, we receive powers that allow us to do the impossible. Though there are some things even our magic cannot do.
We cannot bring someone back from the dead.
This I learned the day Jenny fell from the swing in our backyard. The day I begged my mother to use her powers to save my best friend. The day I lost my best friend was the last day I had a best friend.
“Azra,” my mother’s voice floats up the stairs. “How about a break from all this, kiddo?”
A break. From all of this. If only there was one. If only I could find one.
Even though my mother always insisted there was no way out of me fulfilling my destiny, when I was younger I thought maybe she was forcing me into this like other parents force kids to take piano lessons.
I steal a last glance at the “A+J.” Henry, barely a year older than Jenny and me, tried to take her place over the years, but I wouldn’t let him. Couldn’t let him. Though it surely would have been better for both of us if I had. But for the past few years, at least he’s had Lisa, whose resemblance to Jenny both comforts and unnerves me. For the first time, I wonder if Henry feels the same.
At the brick hearth, I steady myself against the mantel, allowing my thumping heart to retreat to its normal rhythm. I lay a finger on the oval pendant hanging from a silver chain around my neck. The cursive A engraved on the front stands for the first letter of the name I share with my grandmother on my mother’s side—the necklace’s original owner, whom I’ve never met. Like a security blanket, my A has always calmed me. I was so young when my mother first looped the chain around my neck that I don’t remember it.
Leaning over the terra cotta bricks, I wring the water out of my shirt and clutch my A once more before heading back downstairs.
When I enter the living room, my mother points to the bookshelf. “Up there,” she says. “Happy birthday.”
A box wrapped in silver and gold is nestled in among the tchotchkes. Painted tribal masks from Ghana, onyx candleholders from Mexico, baskets of yarn from Ireland, the objects cramming the shelves are a tangible history of my mother’s life. Being Jinn has allowed my mother to see the world. Traveling to even the farthest reaches is only a matter of a blink and a nod for Jinn.
My hand reaches the box without me having to stand on tiptoes even though it’s on the highest shelf—something I couldn’t have done yesterday, but then again, yesterday, unlike today, my mother and I were not yet the exact same height. My tank top rides up, fully exposing my belly button.
“Tell me,” my mother says, waving her hand and drying my damp shirt, “because, knowing you, it could go either way. Is the midriff baring an unfortunate side effect of your metamorphosis or an intentional display of contempt for this whole thing?”
I run the tip of my red nail along my exposed stomach, working to bury the ache that always comes with thinking of Jenny. I issue a wry smile that lets her think it’s the latter. I wish I would have thought of that. I wish. Rolls off the tongue. So easy to say. Takes so much to do.
Inside the box lies a deep purple tunic with pinstripes of gold so thin the effect is subtle, not flashy. I rub the soft linen between my fingers. “It’s . . . it’s beautiful. Thanks, Mom. Really.”
My sincerity throws her. “I can make it black if you want.”
“No, I like the purple.” The understated nature of the shirt—a departure from the bright fabrics of her wardrobe but in line with my monotone collection of blacks, whites, and grays—proves she knows how hard all this is for me. As does what comes next.
“I know I said we’d wait until tomorrow,” she says, refolding the shirt. “But if you want, if you’re not too tired, we can give it a try.”
“It” can only mean one thing—the power even I couldn’t help but crave.
“Ready to app, kiddo?”
About the Author
Lori Goldstein was born into an Italian-Irish family and raised in a small town on the New Jersey shore. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Lehigh University and worked as a writer, editor, and graphic designer before becoming a full-time author. She currently lives and writes outside of Boston. Lori is the author of the young adult contemporary fantasy seriesBecoming Jinn (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, April 21, 2015, sequel, Circle of Jinn, May 17, 2016).
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