A Pretty Implausible Premise

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By Karen Rivers

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$18.99

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$23.99 CAD

In this touching novel, Hattie and Presley’s instant connection seemed implausible—almost impossible—but falling in love is exactly what they needed to escape the ghosts of their pasts.

Head-spinning, Taylor-Swift-song-level feelings. Their instant connection seems implausible, even impossible, as they start to realize all they have in common. Both are grieving, living in worlds haunted by ghosts; both have a parent who's out of sight, not out of mind; and both were forced to give up their Olympic dreams. Connected by experiences only they understand, Hattie and Presley fall into a whirlwind romance—flirting at their workplace, sleeping side by side beneath the stars, ice skating to a playlist all their own. But like the wildfires surrounding their California town, the trauma that haunts them is unrelenting. Can they overcome their losses without losing each other? Or will their ghosts break them apart?

Perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon and Rachel Lynn Solomon, A Pretty Implausible Premise explores the power of a love beyond comprehension, and how seemingly implausible connections can be the ones we need the most. 

Excerpt

Zing




HATTIE

Hattie's leaning on the kitchen island eating Cheerios, except she isn't really eating Cheerios so much as she's sinking them to the bottom of the bowl and watching them bob back up to the surface.

"So resilient," she says after a beat, savouring the too-sweet doctor's-office-yellow-lollipop taste of that word. "We could all learn a serious life lesson from this cereal."

"What's that, hon?" Her dad glances over at her from where he's stirring eggs in a huge cast-iron pan. "Are you sure you don't want eggs? These are going to be muy delicioso!" He kisses his fingers and flings them wide, then salts the eggs with a flourish.

"Absolutely not." Hattie's dad loves eggs. He loves lifting weights and Taylor Swift. He loves mornings and hyperbole and El Amado and his job as a child psych professor at El Amado Community College.

In the Venn diagram of Hattie and her dad, the overlap is Taylor Swift, but sometimes she wonders if she even does love Taylor Swift or if she just loves loving Taylor Swift with her dad . . . and now she's overthinking Taylor Swift and overthinking overthinking, which is another area where they overlap.

They've both been overthinking her mom's departure for eleven years—her old toothbrush is still by his sink, her hiking boots by the front door, her surfboard in the shed out back—even though there is not that much information to overthink:

She went to Switzerland. She didn't come back.

"So . . . eggs for you then?"

"No, Dad. God. Those eggs smell like wet dog."

"They'll taste like heaven itself has stirred itself into a pan to be fuel for these babies." He flexes his massive bicep.

"Only if you have no sense of smell. Please put that arm away before someone gets hurt." Hattie spins her phone on the counter. The glittery case reflects the lights like a tiny disco ball. Inside it, lurking behind a notification, there's an email from her mom that she hasn't opened and can't open and won't open. The subject line says: Fwd: Fwd: Save the Date.

"Any big plans today?" asks her dad.

"It's the first day of school, Dad, so you could say that school has made plans for me. Then I'm going to work, because someone has to pay for . . ." Her voice halts, slamming on the brakes before it gets to college. She's not even going to college now that she's quit swimming. How can she? Swimming scholarships make swimming necessary. Her dad looks at her expectantly. "Stuff," she finishes, quietly.

"Let's make it Taco Tuesday then!" he says. "We'll celebrate!"

"I'm always down for tacos . . . but it's Monday."

"Rules were made to be broken."

"So you say until I break them." Hattie can tell from his good mood that her dad did not get the Fwd: Fwd: Save the Date email. She's equally sure that what's in this email will break his big stupid heart. Again. And he'll overcompensate by doing something ridiculous like taking up the lute and becoming a Renaissance musician or signing up for a macrame art class and opening an Etsy shop. It's not normal. He's not normal. His reactions all veer toward alarming positivity. Normal people get angry and sad when bad things happen, not enthusiastic.

Not that she wants him to get angry or sad. She wants to keep the email locked in her phone forever so he doesn't have to get angry or sad or angrier or sadder than he's already overcorrecting for.

She also wants to know what the email says so she can be angry and sad, which would validate how angry and sad she always feels when she thinks about her mom.

Or she could just delete it.

She could never think about it again.

That, she decides, would definitely be the power move.

But then she wouldn't know. She has to know.

Her dad tosses the spatula in the air, spins on one foot, and catches the utensil behind his back. "Ta-da!"

"OMG. Stop." She holds up her hand. "I'm googling how to get you an application for Cirque du Soleil. Those skills can't go unshared with the world."

"Do you look miserable because you'll miss me when I'm touring the world with French Canadian acrobats and my spatula or is there some other reason?"

Hattie takes a sip from his coffee cup and makes a face. "Ew. That's terrible."

"That's why I didn't pour you a cup. But excellent avoidance." He bobs, ducks, and weaves. "Bob! Duck! Weave!"

"Dodgeball rules don't apply to conversations. And I get to be angsty on my last first day of school. It's a legitimate developmental stage. It's senioritis. Definitely in the DSM-5. Check it out."

"Noted." He inhales deeply over the pan. "Mmmmmm. Gordon Ramsay is probably turning over in his grave."

"I'm pretty sure Gordon Ramsay isn't dead."

He gives her his signature look, one eyebrow raised so high, it practically disappears into his hairline. Scooping his mountain of eggs onto a bright yellow plate, he slides it onto the counter, sits down next to her, and starts eating. His fork scrape-scrape-scraping catapults her through the atmosphere and into deep space where, even then, she can still hear it, and she shatters into a million pieces, all her molecules dissipating into the eternal darkness of the multiverse . . .

He taps his fork on his plate, jerking her back. "So . . . is this really just first-day blues or should I worry?"

"It's nothing. It's . . . whatever. It's scraping."

"Scraping?"

"Forget it. Never mind."

On the fridge behind her dad, there's a photo of her mom wearing a faded pastel orange plaid sundress—it's one of Hattie's favorite things to wear now—holding Hattie's hand in front of her lime-green VW bus, which is also now officially Hattie's and dubbed Applejack after her favorite My Little Pony. Hattie's mom looks impossibly young in the photo. She looks like a kid. She was a kid. She was less than a year older than Hattie is now. In the picture, toddler Hattie is crying with her mouth wide open. Her mom is staring at something in the distance, above Hattie's head, outside the frame.

Hattie took the picture down once. It had been there so long that it left a ghost of itself on the fridge, a perfect square. She'd tucked it into the back of the cutlery drawer, under the tiny forks they never used. The next morning it was back, perfectly lined up with its own shadow.

It's the only photo of her mom they have. Before she left, she deleted all the photos from the hard drive of the family computer. She factory-reset Hattie's dad's phone and deleted the cloud. She took every photo out of every frame. She deleted her entire existence from their lives, like someone purging an ex from social media, but a million times worse because in doing so, she also erased Hattie's early childhood.

This photo only survived because it was in her dad's office.

They don't talk about how all the photos are gone yet the things they'd thought mattered to her mom had stayed, the things they'd thought she loved: her surfboard, the VW, her favorite Nikes, a rack of sundresses, her bright blue guitar, her collection of vintage mix tapes . . . and her daughter and her husband.

"You sure you don't want to talk about it?"

Hattie startles. "No. Talk about what?" She shuts her eyes so she can't see the photo or the eggs, picks up her bowl, and walks with her eyes still closed to where she thinks the sink is, gropes around, and puts the bowl down with a clatter. "There's nothing to talk about. I'm fine."

Fine tastes like fresh milk. She can't remember when she stopped drinking milk, but Mr. Kim, her favorite teacher, taught them that human cells regenerate completely every seven years, so maybe it's just that the cells of her that liked gulping down a glass of milk have been extinguished by the passage of time.

Seven years.

Elijah Johnston was only seven years old when he died on Hattie's watch, so he never had a chance to become someone else. Thinking about Elijah makes his face appear over the kitchen island, with his wide smile and missing top teeth and huge dark eyes . . .

"Shit." She presses the heels of her hands into her eyes, darkening everything.

"You're fine but also . . . shit?" Her dad pushes his empty plate away. Scraaaaaaape.

She flinches. "I contain multitudes." She is not going to tell her dad about Elijah's presence. Her dad is a psychologist. He'll diagnose her. She wants to change the subject. She wants to run away from Elijah's face. She wants . . . another life. A different life! In a parallel universe, Elijah did not drown at his seventh birthday party. She, the lifeguard on duty, saw him slip under the floating island and jumped in and saved him in time. There was no CPR needed because she stopped it from getting that far. He didn't freaking die, her hands uselessly pressing his chest, her breath uselessly puffing into his mouth. And if none of that happened, then she also wouldn't have started having panic attacks in the pool. In that world, she'd be at practice right now with the rest of the team, hauling herself up and down the lanes until every muscle in her body was spent, waiting for the whistle that meant it was time to shower and go to school.

Elijah's death is why Hattie believes in the multiverse.

She has to.

Somewhere, somehow, there's a world where Elijah isn't dead, and one where her mom didn't leave, and even one where she still likes drinking milk.

She takes a deep breath. "Your obsession with me is comforting but unhealthy, Dad. Consider your own needs. How are you?"

"I'm more than fine. Thanks for asking." He does a drum roll on the island. "I'm tied together with a smile, baby." He starts to sing the song with the same name.

"It's way too early for the kind of energy T-Swift brings to the table."

"Hang on, kiddo." He leaves the room, coming back with a folded black T-shirt that he tosses to her. "I can tell you need this today. Wear the power."

She pulls the giant Fearless T-shirt from their first Taylor Swift concert over her cropped tank top and jean shorts. It's been washed so often that it's almost transparent in places. It's soft and perfect and smells like her dad: some inexplicable yet fitting combination of a specific type of cookies—the kind you give to teething babies—and ancient rainforests. "Thanks, Dad. I think you're right. This is exactly what I need." She holds up her fist for a fist bump.

"Untouchable!" they say, at the same time, bumping fists, then waving their fingers.

She doesn't necessarily feel better, but she does feel slightly closer to fine now, and that's something.




PRESLEY

Presley wakes up with the vibration of his phone alarm, his heart already in his throat, half-remembering something he doesn't want to know. He blinks up through the skylight, which is only inches from his face, his brain scrambling like someone trying to regain their footing on a collapsing slope. He squints in the dazzling sunlight. A bird flies by, small and frantic, as though it's trying not to crash.

He's never related to something so hard.

Pinching the skin between his thumb and fingers, he reminds himself that it's like this every morning. He's fine. Everything's fine! Or it will eventually be fine! Probably. Maybe. Possibly not. Sweat beads on his foreh«ead.

Mac is dead, he reads on a Post-it note, taped to the ceiling six inches from his nose, illustrated with a stick figure with x's for eyes.

Dad is in prison. (Stick figure behind bars.)

Mum and Ellie got married. (Two stick figures in dresses.)

We live in California now. (Stick figure standing under a palm tree.)

This tiny house is temporary (watch your head!). (Stick figure bending over in a too-short room.)

Last night, he added a new one:

It's the first day of school (don't be late!). (Stick figure with a backpack.)

He reads them every morning so he's not taken by surprise. It helps to remember everything all at once instead of letting it creep in gradually, like a really terrible rising tide. Or maybe it makes it worse. He isn't totally convinced either way.

He peels the First Day of School note down and shreds it into confetti, sprinkling it with other one-time-only reminders on the shelf next to his mattress, a colorful flurry of paper snow. The others stay.

He can hear his mum and Ellie not snoring exactly, but sleep-breathing in unison from the bedroom below his loft. It's sweet, if a little too intimate for comfort. But their new, big house overlooking the cliff is going to take months to build and is currently only a skeleton, bones stark and pale in the sun like the ribs of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History's blue whale. So, for now, they're embracing the tiny house lifestyle. He wears headphones a lot.

Keep it together, trash-hole, he tells himself. (This, he guesses, is probably not the kind of motivational up-talk Ellie suggested he give himself, but it's as close as he can get right now.)

Trying not to make too much noise, he reaches over to his pile of clothes and grabs some layers: Mac's old dark gray Nirvana T-shirt ("Smells Like Teen Spirit"), the soft flannel plaid button-down he used to wear for luck when he traveled for skating competitions, his favorite cargo pants, a too-big vintage Levi's jean jacket. He'll be way too hot, but he needs something between himself and the sharp reality of today: the stares of the other kids; the sympathy of the teachers who probably know the bare bones, at least, of his past; the way his head after a few hours will feel like it's full of nails, scraping his skull from the inside.

Once he's dressed and brushed his teeth in the tiny bathroom, he gulps down a glass of water with his pills, throws his water bottle and a sandwich Ellie made into his backpack with a binder, an iPad, and a bunch of pens. Then he slips his silent phone into his pocket, steps outside, giving his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dazzlingly painful Southern California sun . . . and immediately seizes up.

It's a thing that happens to him now, in his own personal After: Tonic seizures that disconnect his body from his brain for tiny spasms of time, locking him rigidly, although fleetingly, in place. After one numbly clenched minute, he manages to take a deep, slow breath and his muscles release like elastic bands, all popping at once. His nose fills with the cloying scent of the bougainvillea that grows over the trellis-covered patio behind the tiny house and the acrid smoke from the distant wildfires that stain the eastern sky.

"You all right, Pres?" His mum's voice from behind makes him jump. He turns, and there she is, wild curly hair in disarray, looking half-asleep. Her British accent is stronger in the mornings.

"I'm fine, Mum. Go back to bed."

"I thought maybe you were . . ." She shakes her head, then yawns. "Never mind. Love you to the moon, sweetheart."

"Yeah, sure, Mum." He waits for her to close the door, then presses play on Catfish and the Bottlemen—turns it up so loud his ears hurt, then louder still, so loud he can feel it reverberating in his joints, vibrating his skin.

I'm fine, he thinks. This is fine. Everything is fine.

Fine is the goal.

His goals once had words in them like exceeding, exceptional, excellent. Those days are long gone. Now he shoots for fine and misses more often than not.

He hasn't walked more than fifty yards before he trips over . . . a goat. An actual real, live goat. His knees hit the ground first and explode in a firework of pain. The place where his left leg is pinned together shoots a lightning bolt of tingling agony to both his hip and his foot. "What the actual fuuuuuuuck." The goat, who's exactly the same shade of dusty brown as the dirt, blinks at him slowly, unmoved.

Presley flips over onto his back, his heart racing, and stares up at the hazy sky, trying to regroup. Just because one thing has gone wrong doesn't mean the whole day is a write-off! Ellie would say. She's the human equivalent of a motivational podcast playing constantly in his brain, but he can't even hate her for it because sometimes it helps. Without her, he's pretty sure he would've fallen into the abyss that's permanently yawning around his feet, waiting to pull him in. Keep it in perspective!

"Yeah. Right. Sure." He closes his eyes. There was probably a time in his life when he would have turned this situation into a funny story. But now, he just feels . . . defeated. "You win, goat." His headphones have bounced off and the noises of this new place are an unfamiliar assault on his ears: distant freeway traffic, the surf smashing against the base of the cliffs, the wind pushing through the long grasses, low shrubs and scattered wildflowers, a cacophony of strange birds, the dull roar of a jet overhead.

Then, out of nowhere, a voice. Mac's voice.

"What?"

I asked if you had a good trip, drawls Mac. Yodiot.

Presley takes a breath, his voice cracking slightly. "Takes one to know one."

Yodiot was one of their favorite made-up words, an insult they invented when they were little kids, one that wouldn't be (couldn't be) on their mum's list of forbidden bad words.

The spinning world accelerates like a broken fair ride trying to buck him off. It's an existential dizziness that's made both worse and better by Mac, who is real, even though he can't possibly be real. Presley stopped questioning his presence after a quick Google floated the possibility of post-TBI psychosis, which he . . . doesn't want to have. The traumatic brain injury is more than enough already, and the seizures and anxiety in his After are about all he can handle. So Mac's a real ghost as far as he's concerned—why the hell not? He's fine with it.

Fine!

Fine.

"So, bromigo, where have you been?" He hasn't heard from Mac since they moved, so while talking to a ghost is not a sign of good mental health—his mental health is a dumpster fire, there's no point pretending it's not—he's honestly just happy Mac's here. "I thought maybe you got stuck at the border."

No idea, man, but I'm pretty sure I don't need a passport. SoCal, eh? Why didn't this happen when I was alive?

"Do you really want me to answer that?"

Nah. You gonna lie there hitting up that hot goat all day? She's obviously just not that into you. Mac's voice seems to be coming from Presley's headphones. He picks them up, puts them on, only to find Catfish still playing. He pauses the song. His hands are shaking, but they're often shaking now. ("Essential tremor," said his last doctor, shrugging, as though that were the least of Presley's problems. "Totally benign.")

"She said she's saving herself for you, so I'm out of luck."

There's no reply from the ether, the goat, Presley's headphones, or anywhere else, just the uncomfortably dry sound of the goat's lips smacking as he nuzzles the back of Presley's head. When it becomes apparent Mac's ghost has nothing more to say, Presley gets up slowly, blood roaring in his ears, and starts limping in the direction of El Amado High, the day already feeling impossible in every way. He hopes the goat didn't actually eat a chunk of his hair.

"The nice thing about being new is that you can be whoever you want to be, Pres," his mum had said. "You can start over, reinvent yourself. Be anyone! Like, if I could reinvent myself, I'd be a bloody Swedish supermodel with a PhD in astrophysics. Or at least a Kardashian."

Obviously, if Presley could reinvent himself, he'd start out with an intact body and brain. Beyond that, he can't even imagine who he'd want to be except the person he was before everything happened: a nationally top-ranked figure-skater with a twin, a still-married mom and dad, two delightfully weird best friends, a yellow house in Canada, and a three-legged cat named Buck.

But it's not that simple, or even possible.

The house is sold. His brain is fucked. He hasn't talked to Henry or Big Tee since . . . Before. Buck ran away. His mum married Ellie. His dad is in jail. And the cherry on the top of the shit sundae that's his life now? Mac is dead.

So his mum's wrong. You don't get to pick who you want to be. He was who he wanted to be. And now he can't ever be that person again.




HATTIE

Jada leans impossibly close to Topher. Her shiny black hair slips out of its loose bun, and he feels it brush his cheek. "Come on. Love is bullshit. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it."

He steps back, fast, as though she's hit him, his unruly hair flopping down over his forehead. She's torn between fixing it or slicing it off.

Slicing would be so satisfying. So satisfying and so wrong.

But she has no scissors, lucky for him. She reaches over and fixes it. "Better."

"I just . . . But . . . I love you," he says pitifully. "What am I supposed to do with that?"

She shrugs. "Let it keep you warm at night? Sell it to Hallmark for a few extra bucks? Cross-stitch it on a pillow?"

He looks pained for a second and then he realizes she's (probably) joking and a smile opens his face, wide and bright,

and he's laughing

and she's laughing, too,

and then they're kissing

because that's how it is with them,

it always leads to kissing, or at least it does now.

It's taken them a while to get here, but the wait was worth it, even if she doesn't believe in love, at least not the eternal magical pixie dust dream kind, sold to kids from birth as forever.

She can say whatever she wants about it, he thinks, but no one kisses like that—long, slow, tender, a whole goddamn orchestra of sensations—and thinks it's anything less than love.

"I still think love is bullshit," she murmurs into his mouth, just so he doesn't get the wrong idea.

Lunchtime. Hattie is outside the school, cross-legged on the ground, reading. She loves this part of the book.

She is officially gotten. By a novel.

"Hey, Cal?"

Calliope doesn't react, doesn't even open her eyes. Hattie flicks a tiny sugar ant off her shin where it's been weaving between her fine blond stubble like it's navigating the Amazon rainforest.

They aren't supposed to be outside—the wildfires sweeping toward them from the east have made the air quality in El Amado "unsafe"—but everyone else is inside so they're not. The kids from the swim team, who Hattie has easily avoided all summer, are impossible to avoid at school, but they'd never come out here, not into this smoke-cloaked hellscape.

She stares at the open book on her lap. She tries to not think about her former teammates or swimming, or Elijah. She pretends to read, pretends his face isn't looming, pretends to not feel the tightness in her lungs, the pink flesh of them absorbing the gray air and turning into something else, something poisoned and sick.

She runs her hand over the page, squints at the words that have turned into black ants crawling across the page, blinking hard until they swim back into focus.

"What if everyone just accepted that love is bullshit?" Her voice is loud in the stillness and the word bullshit is surprisingly sweet and minty, like the spearmint fluoride her old dentist used to use, the one who had clowns painted on the ceiling and gave out balloons you had to pop to retrieve plastic rings or tiny bouncy balls, like some kind of trauma trifecta: Clowns! Popping balloons! Dentists! "It would change everything. Think about it. Songs. Movies. Books. If love wasn't, like, the only goal, wouldn't everything just be more . . . interesting?"

Calliope's eyes stay closed, not even a flicker. Only she could nap so hard out here, sprawled like a chalk outline on the ground. Hattie takes in the precise cat-eye of her friend's perfect eyeliner, her fanned-out blue box braids, her twitching lips. She nudges her with her foot. "You're faking it, Cal. Come on. Wake up and talk to me."

Calliope sits up abruptly, simultaneously flinging one AirPod out of her ear. "I never fake it, but, girl, if you're reading

Genre:

  • Praise for A Pretty Implausible Premise:

    "Told in literary and lyrical prose, this stunning contemporary coming-of-age novel rings romantically and nostalgically true. Contemporary readers will enjoy the snug-fitting references to Taylor Swift and (less obviously) John and Hank Green that give the novel a real world feel without inducing a cringe or a real threat of datedness, even for future readers... Heartfelt and cerebral enough to be cognitively delicious but not elitist, the prose and characterization make the overall result feel like a warm, glowing sunset." Booklist, starred review

    "Rivers organically pulls off the improbable premise of love conquering all; lightly speculative elements, smart attention to each minute detail, and Hattie and Presley’s convincing character arcs proffer an at once melancholy and joyful romance." Publishers Weekly, starred review

    "Rivers explores trauma with sensitivity: Readers see the wide range of emotions and coping mechanisms that can come into play." Kirkus Reviews

    Praise for You Are the Everything:

    “This is good choice for those who enjoyed E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars or books with pieces that only fit together after a surprising ending. Fans of unreliable narrators and twist endings will clamor for this story of romance and survival.” School Library Journal, starred review

    “Philosophical readers will find much to love here; Rivers picks apart the nuances of friendship and romance, with their attendant loyalties and conflicts . . .  You Are the Everything is an unusual and compelling novel that skillfully plays with narrative perspective.” Booklist, starred review

    “Well-written and emotionally resonant, this is an unusual and poignant story . . . that explores unfulfilled dreams and ideas of what might have been.” Kirkus Reviews

    "If you're looking for a contemporary romance that's different from any other book you've ever read, this one is for you.” Young Adult Books Central

On Sale
Sep 26, 2023
Page Count
384 pages
ISBN-13
9781616208165

Karen Rivers

Karen Rivers

About the Author

Karen Rivers’s books have been nominated for a wide range of literary awards and have been published in multiple languages. When she’s not writing, reading, or teaching other people how to write, she can usu­ally be found hiking and taking photos in the forest that flourishes behind her tiny old house in Victoria, British Columbia, where she lives with her two kids, three dogs, and three birds. Find her online at karenrivers.com and on Twitter: @karenrivers.

Learn more about this author