Barefoot and miles from home, seventeen-year-old Hannah Ashton wakes up to silence. The sprawling city of Houston is empty, except for one person: an eighteen-year-old boy named Leo.
As they adjust to a world with no parents, no school, and no structure, Hannah and Leo get a chance to be themselves instead of playing parts others cut out for them. The pressures of being an obedient daughter and music-box-perfect ballerina have driven Hannah into herself, and 80s-rock-obsessed Leo is a burst of honesty and energy that draws her out.
Together, Hannah and Leo search for answers amid crippling isolation. Their empty world seems harmless… until the days shorten and the nights lengthen. What Hannah sees isn’t always the same as what Leo sees. When they learn they can manipulate their surroundings, changing the color of the sky and shifting the temperature, they realize this isn’t an ordinary apocalypse. Their new world is built on a dark secret, one that might tear Leo away and leave Hannah alone—truly alone—forever.
WHILE WE’RE HERE is an 89,000-word young adult novel with a speculative twist. Told in Hannah and Leo’s alternating points of view, it aims to inspire readers to take chances on friendships beyond their prescribed socioeconomic circles—and shows that the most unlikely person can spark a powerful journey to self-discovery.
As a dual citizen of the US and the UK, I work as a stage manager for major ballet companies on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to being selected for WriteMentor’s summer program, I’m in a critique group with Carnegie-nominated author Liz Flanagan, who attested that “this vivid, empty-world love story will captivate fans of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay.” It might also appeal to readers of Emily Henry’s The Love That Split the World, and anyone who’s ever struggled to detangle the person they want to be from the person everyone expects them to be.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration,
WHILE WE’RE HERE
I should have stayed at home.
At home, I can pretend things are at least a slice of normal. I should have squashed down that little want, that voice inside me that said go on, Hannah. Go out and get more books.
Bad things happen when I stray from the plan. When I don’t do what I’m supposed to do. After all, I designed the plan so I wouldn’t have to think about the empty.
I’m thinking about it now.
* * *
The street I’m parked on is as still as a painting.
Light filters down through the twisted branches of the oak trees lining the road, shielding me from the worst of the Houston summer sun. The temperature display on the dashboard reads ninety-nine degrees, but it’s cool and safe inside my mom’s SUV. I’ve parked here a hundred times before, half a block away from the used bookstore my best friend’s family owns, but now all those other times feel like another life.
I roll my window down a crack and turn the engine off so I can listen.
It’s quiet. The kind of quiet that reminds me of long summer breaks and lazy mosquitos, of my grandma’s house in the backwoods of East Texas. But I’m not in the woods. I’m right in the middle of the fourth largest city in the country.
Houston is the only city I’ve ever known. Every downtown block is imprinted on the seventeen years of my history, and I know how hard it is to get away from people—or at least their cars. Here, the highways drone like the white noise on a vintage vinyl record player: always there, but you only hear it between songs.
Right now, I don’t hear a thing.
No cars. No people.
Only silence, empty and hot.
I pull my mom’s keys out of the ignition but keep them in my hand, gripping the pointe shoe charm on the keychain as if some of her famous ballerina stoicism will transfer into me.
I need to get out of the car. I don’t know why I’m waiting, casing the joint like a cop on a stakeout. Maybe it’s a shred of hope something normal will happen. Maybe the front door on the house across the street will swing open, a woman in sunglasses will trot down the steps, keys jangling, and get in her car and zoom off.
It doesn’t happen. It’s been five days and I haven’t seen a single person. Nobody’s out there, and sitting here paralyzed will just give my imagination a chance to rear its ugly head.
As if on cue, a shadow shifts outside the passenger window, right at the edge of my vision. I whip my head around.
There’s nothing there, except for one gnarled tree branch bending further over the road than the others. The shadow must have been the flutter of its plasticky leaves.
There’s nothing there, Hannah. It’s just your imagination.