Treehugger (Based on a Dream #1)
by Kea Alwang
Treehugger is the first book in Kea Alwang's Based on a Dream series. You can also read my blog post on Risktaker, the second book in the series.
Planet-hopping is a gift. Righting the wrongs of the multiverse on behalf of a mysterious life form is a privilege. Leading a secretive double life has its perks. Being Earthborn? Well, that simply bites.
When Chloe (aka Star of Earth) dares to shake off her bullied past to try fitting in at an A-list slumber party, her sleeping bag is the least of her baggage. Unfortunately, more ridicule only reinforces her belief that she'll never blend in on Earth, no matter how well she hides her double life, alien-influenced quirks, and devastation over the disappearance of her best friends. At least when they were in her life, public humiliation on her homeworld didn't throw her as much. Their friendship had meant everything.
Symbiont-aided abilities slipping, Chloe becomes an enemy to herself just as a terrifying nemesis threatens to resurface. Can she navigate evolving relationships and old nightmares in time to rescue her legendary reputation as an evil-thrashing sentinel? Does it really matter what world you are on when trying to find yourself - especially when a lunatic is trying to find you first?
The laughter is loud enough to make me cover my ears, only I’m an icy glacier housing a blazing-red fire glowing from inside the very top of the frigid mound. Yet somehow that fire flushing my cheeks isn’t hot enough to melt the rest of me into motion. Neither is knowing that this fear-riddled, sick-to-my-stomach, embarrassed mess is not me. I don’t let situations get to this point. Hanging out at this party feels like understanding calculus without knowing how to add. It’s like knowing you’re a five-star chef when you can’t boil an egg.
So how did I get here?
I took a risk. Trouble is, a risk is only as good as its outcome. Think about it: Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, lived to tell about it and had people shouting, “Way to go, Neil!” On the other hand, you know there had to be a point when Amelia Earhart, on her risky flight around the equator, suddenly let out a regretful, “Oh, crap!”
Like poor Amelia, I must have miscalculated at some point and more than once. I retrace my steps....
Mistake Number One: I showed up at Tara Hendricks’ sleepover.
For the first hour of the party, it was just the girls talking over one another while I ran my pinky nail through the fabric grooves of a blue, corduroy seat cushion. Nobody spoke to me, although it was clear there was a 135-pound gorilla in the room.
I second-guessed my appearance for the umpteenth time: Let’s hear it for khaki capris and a black cotton V-neck. Not weird, not fabulous—just an honest attempt to achieve status quo. My hair was down for a change, a breath away from brushing my shoulders. As usual, it hung in stubborn waves, but it smelled clean, and the ends were freshly trimmed. The silver dragon-claw necklace probably wasn’t my best choice, but I own jewelry of a far more “what the hell is that?” nature. Fake emerald posts filled one set of ear piercings, the other boasted Hyakian lemins. Although, to my credit, lemins are nearly identical to Earthen amethysts. The three-inch-long cuff that almost never leaves my left wrist passes for brushed, quarter-inch-thick silver. Tiny, etched circles outline a smooth rectangle at the center of the cuff, and wiggly lines run down the sides. Despite the funky design, nobody would suspect the cuff’s true nature.
Tired of self-analysis, I wondered what everyone else had going on right.
Maura, while beginning her attack on the bowl of popcorn, openly dug at her nose as if mining gold. Still, she had Prada sunglasses on top of her head, as well as a social calendar that would make the First Lady jealous. I wondered: Did Prada make nose picking forgivable?
On the other hand, Maura’s cousin, Kerry, always wears grungy sneakers, never shuts up, does almost nothing with her hair, but is A-list all the way. Did the BMW she arrived in allow her to rate?
And what about blonde bombshell Samantha, who has claimed countless boyfriends by the age of fourteen? Does that record make up for having the high school chess-team captain for an older brother?
I gave up reasoning it all out when Cheryl’s nails-on-chalkboard voice soared six octaves. “Tell me about it! Who would have thought Natalie would wind up in a humanities class?”
“Um … breaking news,” said Maura. “I heard Gianna made it, too. But you know Natalie is somehow related to one of the teachers, right? Sounds like nepotism to me.”
“Like what?” Samantha asked.
“Nepotism,” Maura repeated. “Meaning, when you abuse the power of your job to do favors for people. Hell! How come I’m not in humanities?”
“I know, right? That is sooo a humanities word,” Samantha said. “But at least we know skanky Gianna and Natalie won’t be in our classes.”
Tara, host of the party and a humanities girl herself, said, “Good for you two! They could still wind up in my class. And if they got into humanities, I can’t believe you guys didn’t.”
“Look out!” sneered Kerry. “Next thing you know, they’ll be putting retarded Valerie in there!” Then she stood, pushed her top jaw forward and whined, “Hewooo! My wame is Vawwerie!”
That would be Mistake Number Two.
Tara’s schnauzer let out a geriatric sigh. I only heard it because of the room’s sudden silence.
Had to open my mouth, didn’t I? It’s just that Natalie and Gianna could handle such gossip if they knew about it. They wouldn’t give a damn. Not Valerie, though. That poor girl looked haunted enough when she wasn’t in anyone’s cross hairs.
Nine sets of raised brows dared me to repeat myself.
“Don’t what, Chloe?” accused Maura, her pointy chin jutting as if she’d like to stab me with it.
“Valerie’s father left her and her mother last year,” I said.
I held my breath, wondering why that snippet of info wasn’t enough to get my point across. Out of habit, I searched the air around me for the compassion and understanding I’ve gone without for over a year now. The reflex is useless these days, but old habits die hard when you’ve become completely reliant upon them. What I do sense around me is a weird sort of anxiety, the andrenalized sort of emotion people might feel if they were in a race to climb to the top of a mountain and were afraid of tripping, tumbling down, and winding up kicked out of the race.
I spoke slowly. “They were homeless four months ago; she’s lucky she has somewhere to live now.”
Everyone’s eyes went blank, coldly stating that I still had not made my case. Only Tara appeared slightly unnerved, but not enough to do anything about it. Wow. Did I need to spell everything out?
I cleared my throat. “So she can’t even hope for newer clothes. Plus, she’s on the autism spectrum and gets help for her speech problem. Of course she’s ... different! But, how could that be her fault? Why do you think she has so many resource room classes? Turns out she’s an amazing artist, though.” I stopped babbling and realized each word was digging me further into a sinkhole.
Jessica Reardon sneered, dark eyes pinning me to the wall from beneath long lashes. That was all it took for my body temperature to hit a new low. Although she is a girl of few words, anything that does come out of Jessica’s mouth is going to be vicious. Shaking her long ebony hair out of her face, she tilted backward on one hand and grabbed a fistful of popcorn. “What are you, her social worker?”
The room laughed until Kerry hissed, “And what’s your excuse?” Then they howled as if all the world’s comedians suddenly came together in one place.
That’s when self-preservation turned my thoughts inward. My eyes were still open, but the slumber party was no longer before them. A flash of the life I prefer to this one was quick to jump out of storage, ready to run interference for my thudding heart. I welcomed it into my mind’s eye....
Let me start by saying this genre is not usually one I would read from, however I really loved Treehugger. From the very beginning I felt a strong connection to the main character and could empathize with her feels and situation. As the book progresses the development of all the characters was spectacular. The author has great insight into not only the human mind but wildly of those not of this planet. Highly recommend this book to all not just young adult.
About the Author
Kea Alwang lives in New Jersey building worlds, reading, and indulging in severe caffeine and chocolate addictions. Her podcaster husband, film-obsessed son, book-munching daughter, and self-absorbed parakeet are among those who put up with her unnatural attachment to the keyboard. Despite creating characters who can't wait to leave this planet, she actually loves the Earth, but wishes bullies and the word moist would just disappear.
Treehugger is the first in a series of four young adult fantasy books. It is followed by Risktaker, released June 2013.