Black Mirror

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Published by: Originally published by Penguin; current edition by Nancy Werlin
Release Date: 2001
Pages: 240

  

Synopsis

Frances Leventhal refuses to look in the mirror; she can't bear to face her reflection. She has hidden from herself and everyone around her for such a long time, and now that her brother Daniel has committed suicide, she can't help thinking that it's somehow her fault. If she hadn't been so caught up in her own pain, maybe she would have noticed her brother's. It's time to stop hiding—to reach out to Daniel's friends at their private school. Daniel had been deeply involved in Unity Service, the charitable group on campus, and Frances is determined to join the group and to make amends.

But something's not quite right about Unity, and soon Frances finds herself in the middle of a puzzle too ominous to ignore. Exactly what are the Unity members trying so hard to hide? And why does no one else on campus, adult or teen, seem suspicious of them? This time Frances won't scurry away to hide. The memory of her brother is at stake.

Cover art by Rowan MacColl


Backstory

I'm a writer who prefers having written to the actual task of writing—but Black Mirror was especially tough.

Frances is in such despair. I had to write my way into that place and, in fact, the words that begin the book—Have you ever been in a state of pain so intense it was like a living creature wound tightly around your ribcage and shoulders and neck?— originally appeared halfway through the first draft.
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Praise

“Not just a coming-of-age book but an edge-of-your-seat thriller.”
—The Washington Post

“A skillfully wrought plot with fully developed characters and rich themes.”
Kirkus, starred review, July 1, 2001

“Thrilling.”
Booklist, starred review, Sept. 15, 2001

“A well-written and masterfully developed novel."
School Library Journal, starred review, Sept. 2001

“Even readers who think they have it all figured out will still find surprises at the end.”
Horn Book, Sept/Oct 2001

“Chilling and well-constructed mystery.”
Publishers Weekly, Nov. 12, 2001

“A very tasty cake of a plot.”
—Marvin Hoffman, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 7, 2001

  • Miami Herald's list of Best Books of 2001
  •  An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
  • A Booklist Top 10 Mysteries for Youth
  • Texas Tayshas High School Reading List, 2002-2003
  • A New York Public Library Best Book for the Teen Age
  • Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award for YA Fiction nominee, 2002
  • Missouri Gateway Readers' Choice Award list, 2003-2004
  • Virginia Young Readers Program master list, High School Level, 2003-04
  • Tennessee Volunteer State reading list, YA division, 2004-2005

Excerpt

PDF Discussion Guide

In the hall I let my eyes rest on the black-draped mirror. I had a fleeting wish that it, and all mirrors, could stay that way always. I didn’t want, even by accident, to catch a glimpse of myself.

I kept looking for Daniel’s girlfriend, Saskia. I was girding myself to approach her tonight, even though I knew she would be surrounded by her friends. Unity, the charitable group. Daniel’s friends too, of course. I had never liked Saskia, and I knew that she despised me. But now . . . now.

I took a deep breath. I continued to circulate as I waited for her to arrive. I nodded; allowed myself to be gently hugged; to have my hands pressed and my face examined minutely. It felt odd, everyone being so nice. I didn’t know if I liked it. I had become accustomed to being ignored at school.

When would Saskia arrive?

I listened while Brenda Delahay told me at length how much she would miss Daniel. How kind he had been; how caring; how unusual that was. She washed down seven mint Milano cookies with Diet Coke. Then she excused herself. I watched her stick legs mount the stairs toward the bathroom and wondered if what I’d overheard about her was true. It had been Daniel who’d said it, under his breath to Saskia as our class waited for history to start. After Brenda had come running in, looking very pale, and slipped into her seat.

When’s she going to figure out that it’s easier to do speed than throw up? Maybe somebody should ease her in with some diet pills.

Not so kind; not so caring; in fact, a rotten, mean joke for Daniel to make. But I knew no boy could possibly understand the importance of being slender. Not the way girls understood. And Daniel had liked thin girls—you had only to look at Saskia.

I realized I’d put my hand tentatively on my own round hip. I snatched it away. I swiveled. “Cookie?” I said randomly to the group of kids behind me.

“Sure,” said James Droussian. I noticed he was drinking milk, of all things. He took two cookies, said, “Thanks, Frances,” and grinned appreciatively right at me. And I felt my cheeks warm uncontrollably in response.

James just . . . well. There was that adorable brown ponytail, and the cheekbones so defined that they looked like they could cut paper. He talked easily to anyone, as if he didn’t have a clue that there were groups and cliques. On top of that, there was the way he smiled. For an instant his eyes looked directly into yours and said silently: You.

And you couldn’t help feeling, for that instant, that he truly thought you were interesting. That he couldn’t wait to get to know you.

Of course I knew better. James Droussian had only come to Pettengill this past fall, but it was already an open secret that he dealt drugs. He never touched anything himself; never urged anything on anyone. But he always had a little something around. So it was his business to have people like him, to charm people, and it didn’t matter who they were, so long as they could pay. He was everybody’s friend, James, and that smile of his—it was meaningless.

I turned my back on James and his little circle of burnouts. Then, for the first time, it occurred to me to wonder exactly where Daniel had gotten the smack he’d overdosed on. Was it possible James had sold—no. I dismissed the thought immediately. Daniel had had no more money than I had, and I’d heard that James didn’t do samples. I’d always thought Daniel had gotten his marijuana from friends, free. Someone must have given him the heroin as well. Who? And did I even want to know? What difference did it make, after all? It wouldn’t bring him back to life, or change the facts about me. My brother had had a major habit, and I’d thought he only smoked some occasional marijuana.

Suddenly I heard Daniel’s voice in my mind, jeering the way he used to: Frances, cultivate mindfulness. I felt my shoulders hunch defensively. After our mother left, Daniel had memorized literally hundreds of Buddhist aphorisms and catchphrases, from the profound to the preposterous. He had quoted them mockingly at every opportunity, driving me—and our father—nearly crazy.

I practically ran into the foyer with my now-empty plate of cookies.

I was just in time to put the plate down and greet a little circle of Pettengill teachers and administrators, who were trickling in from the front porch where they’d been stamping the snow off their boots. Headmaster Ferkell and his wife, who taught chemistry. Ancient Mrs. Kingston, Latin. Mr. Dickenson and Ms. Polke, history. Mr. Prodanas, math.

And then Patrick Leyden came in, looking thin and dapper and self-assured in one of his expensive wool suits. But, as always, I had to work to not stare at his earlobes. They were round and fleshy and swung slightly whenever he moved his head. Even tonight my fingers itched to draw a vicious caricature.

Daniel’s voice sneered again in my head. A disciplined mind leads to happiness.

More Pettengill teachers streamed in steadily, looking down into my face and pressing my hands (the men) or stooping to hug me (the women). All of them saying nice things about Daniel. I searched surreptitiously for my art teacher, Ms. Wiles. Finally I spotted her, looking especially young and pretty with snowflakes melting on her cinnamon hair. She was standing beside Patrick Leyden, who was talking at her nonstop. As if she felt my gaze, Ms. Wiles looked up and nodded, solemnly, directly at me. I nodded back, and the moment was like a sudden oasis in the noise and confusion and pain.

Sometimes I felt sure that Ms. Wiles could just look at me and understand things I hadn’t even fully formulated. Not that she ever said them aloud. She just . . . looked. As now. I can’t explain it. Yvette Wiles was just . . . special. We could be silent together.

Sometimes I wished I could be her.

As the stream of adults ended, I spotted Saskia across the room. She was with a few of her friends. Unity Service folks, as I’d expected. Wallace Chan. George de Witt, who was the Vice President of Unity. A couple others.

I wanted to talk to Saskia; I had planned to talk to her, but my stomach roiled anyway. Shame swept over me. How could I say what I wanted to say? How would she react? Maybe I shouldn’t—maybe I couldn’t . . .

Unity Service. Why, freshman year, had I so stubbornly refused to help out with their food and clothing drives for the poor, their scholarship fund-raisers? Unity Service was a big deal. Although only a few years old, it had become the largest and most respected student-run charitable group in the country. They’d funded my own scholarship, among so many others, but still I kept saying no. No, no, no. Even Daniel hadn’t been able to sway me. I’d just kept repeating that I wasn’t a joiner.

If I said now that I’d changed my mind, would they scorn me?

We wouldn’t have you now if you begged to join, Daniel had told me last year. You’re the only scholarship recipient in Unity’s history who hasn’t joined the organization. Who hasn’t helped out; who hasn’t given back. I’m actually ashamed of my own sister! Art doesn’t help anyone, you know. It doesn’t give people jobs, or food, or clothes, or opportunities. Business joined to charity does that.Business joined to charity. Those words were a straight quote from Patrick Leyden, and when Daniel quoted Leyden, he didn’t mock.

I wanted to talk to Saskia. Ethereal dark-haired Saskia Sweeney, unrecognizable as the poor girl from Lattimore she’d once been. Saskia, Daniel’s girlfriend, of whom I’d been so jealous. Who, I’d thought, had stolen my brother’s companionship and love from me. I wanted to beg for forgiveness. I wanted to be her friend. But I—I couldn’t. Not tonight.