A National Book Award nominee!
The magic of Savvy meets the complexity of When You Reach Me in this "blithe magical puzzle," --The Wall Street Journal
Told in multiple viewpoints, A Tangle of Knots is a magnificent puzzle. In a slightly magical world where everyone has a Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal Talent for cake baking. But little does she know that fate has set her on a journey from the moment she was born. And her destiny leads her to a mysterious address that houses a lost luggage emporium, an old recipe, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever. However, these encounters hold the key to Cady's past and how she became an orphan. If she's lucky, fate may reunite her with her long-lost parent.
Lisa Graff adds a pinch of magic to a sharply crafted plot to create a novel that will have readers wondering about fate and the way we're all connected.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Lisa Graff is an award-winning novelist whose books have been named to a total of 15 state award lists. She has an MFA from The New School in Writing for Children and is an adjunct professor at McDaniel College. She lives in New York City.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The bookshelf along the far wall of the Owner’s bedroom was lined with jars, top to bottom. To someone who didn’t know any better, they would probably look like simple peanut butter jars. All of them unmarked. All of them empty. But the Owner could tell them apart, and they most certainly were not empty.
This was his collection of Talents. Talents for origami and dog-training and computer-repair and whistling, and dozens of others he’d managed to nab over the years. The Owner had always believed that there was really only one Talent you needed in this world: The Talent for appropriating other people’s Talents.
Selecting a jar from the back, one which had not yet been filled, the Owner—switt-tsk-schwap!—unscrewed the lid. Then he lifted his right hand above the empty jar and squeezed it into a fist. Tighter and tighter he squeezed, until at last . . .
Where just a moment ago there had been nothing, now suddenly there was the Talent the Owner had plucked from the man in the gray suit, clean and condensed and opaque, like an ice cube. The Owner had seen the sight a thousand times, but he never tired of it.
As the Owner reached for the lid to the jar, the Talent began to dissipate, just as the Talents always did if you left them to their own devices. A fine mist rose out of the jar, higher, higher, straight into the air vent above. The Owner thought he heard a soft sniffle escape from the vent, but when he shot his eyes up to check, there was nothing.
THE LINE FOR THE NUMBER 36 BUS OUT OF HATTIESBURG, MISSISSIPPI, was the longest at the station. All sorts of folks were making the long trip north. There were slouchers and starers. A few snoozers. Puckered here and there along the row were men stretching their limbs, hoping to catch a hint of a breeze. A woman fanned her daughter with a newspaper whose headline read SCIENTISTS BELIEVE EXTINCT JUPITER BIRD MAY HAVE BEEN LARGEST FLYING ANIMAL. A toddler munched a cracker, sprinkling sticky crumbs across his mother’s chest. No one seemed to have the energy to speak above a grumble.
The air was thick.
Amidst them all sat a young man, exactly one day past his eighteenth birthday, perched carefully atop his powder blue suitcase. His new brown suit was stiff with creases, not yet shaped to fit his angles. He tapped his foot on the ground, breathing in the last few moments before he claimed his inheritance. His Fate. As soon as he climbed aboard that bus, the young man would be on his way.
Next to him, a small girl who had been losing at a game of jacks for some several minutes suddenly snatched up all seven pieces before the ball bounced down, her hand whipping through the air too quickly to follow.
“Hey!” cried the girl’s competitor, a boy at least three years her senior. “No fair! You said you weren’t any good at jacks!”
The girl grinned a sly little grin. “I’m not good,” she replied, tossing the pieces in the air in a whir of jacks-and-ball-and-jacks. She caught them expertly. “I’m Talented.” She pocketed the jacks and held out her hand, where the boy begrudgingly deposited a nickel.
The young man watched as the girl scurried across the line to her mother, who was leafing through a magazine. When the girl proudly produced her nickel, her mother scolded, “Not again, Susan.” But she only tsked as her daughter flipped the coin in the air. The young man couldn’t help but grin at the scene. A Talent is only rewarding if you wield it well. That’s what his mother had always told him. It seemed to him that this little girl was a master wielder.
“That’s a nice suitcase you’ve got there.”
The young man looked up. Standing before him was a man in a gray suit. He might have been forty, he might have been older, and he was, quite easily, the largest man in the bus station, his enormous frame threatening even the brick support posts for sturdiest structure.
“Sorry?” the young man replied.
“Your suitcase. It’s a choice model. Top of the line.”
Instinctively, the young man grasped the sides of the suitcase just a little tighter. It was a very old suitcase, but sturdy and well-loved, boxy and large as a small child, with worn corners and three small dimples near the left clasp. Across the top a cursive scrawl of silver thread spelled out the brand: St. Anthony’s.
Hidden inside the lining was a single slip of paper that constituted the bulk of the young man’s inheritance.
The young man cleared his throat. He’s just a friendly traveler, he told himself, making conversation. “Thanks,” he replied. “It was my mother’s.”
The words had slipped out without his meaning them to—it was—and he hoped that the older fellow hadn’t noticed his use of the past tense. The last thing the young man wanted to talk about was his mother. But the large man in the gray suit merely grinned a sideways sort of grin. It was a grin that suggested he knew more about the world than he was letting on.
As though to thank him for his silence, the young man offered his hand. “Mason Burgess,” he introduced himself.
“Pleasure to meet you, Mason,” the older fellow replied, leaning down to reach Mason’s outstretched hand. The man had a surprisingly firm shake. “Mind if I wait with you?” And with the ease of a man a third his size, he plopped down his worn leather duffel and folded his legs underneath him.
He did not mention his name.
“So,” the fellow said to Mason, lifting his hat from his head to wipe his brow. “Going north, are you?”
“Poughkeepsie,” Mason confirmed.
“New York,” the fellow said, nodding. He seemed not surprised by the information. “Good for you.”
“And you?” Mason asked, making conversation.
“I’m a traveling salesman,” he replied, although it was most certainly not the answer to Mason’s question. “Odds and ends, mostly. I don’t suppose I could interest you in a knot?” He opened the right side of his jacket. Inside, where most salesmen might hang watches or whatnots, the old man had pinned dozens and dozens of knots. There were slipknots and topknots and figure eights, and tens more Mason had no name for.
Mason squinted. “You certainly are Talented,” he told the man graciously. “Do you . . .” He searched for his manners. “. . . sell many knots, then?”
The older fellow dropped shut the side of his jacket. “Heavens, no,” he said, the last of a guffaw trickling over his words. “These are mostly for entertainment. It’s a horribly useless Talent, tying knots. Could have been blessed with a Talent for finance or medicine. Even a log-splitting Talent might have done me some good. But no, I find myself with knot-tying.”
“Well, the only knot I’ve mastered is the one to tie my shoelaces,” Mason admitted. He couldn’t help it; he liked the odd fellow. “Every other knot just looks like a tangled mess to me.”
The man in the gray suit thought about that. “Well, that’s the thing about knots, isn’t it?” he replied after a moment. “If you don’t know the trick, it’s a muddled predicament. But in fact each loop of every knot is carefully placed, one end twisting right into the other in a way you might not have expected. I find them rather beautiful, really.”
“Mmm.” Mason had nothing more to say on the subject, so he changed course. “It must be an interesting job, traveling salesman,” he said. “Seeing the world.”
“It isn’t bad, at that,” the man told him. “I’m saving up for a hot air balloon. Faster travel, and the views are amazing.”
Without warning, the bus’s engine roared to life. “Number 36 to Philadelphia!” the bus driver bellowed. “Transfer to points north!” Mason rose to his feet.
“Now, just you remember,” the man in the gray suit told Mason, as though they were continuing a previous conversation, “keep an eye on that suitcase of yours.”
“Of course I will,” Mason snapped, picking the suitcase up by the handle. It weighed less than a loaf of bread. “I don’t . . .” Mason shook his head. I don’t need another father—that’s what he’d begun to say. “I’ll be careful,” he told the man. “Are you traveling all the way to Philadelphia? Perhaps we might sit next to each other.”
The man’s gaze was still fixed on Mason’s suitcase. “I had one once,” he said. “A St. Anthony’s suitcase. Did you know there were only three dozen ever crafted? Shut down production after that.” He returned his hat to his head and bent to scoop up his duffel. “I let it out of my sight, if you can believe such a thing. Let go of the suitcase for one minute and . . .” He suddenly seemed to notice the line was pressing them forward, and shook his head as he and Mason inched closer to the bus. “Just be sure to keep an eye on it, young man. The St. Anthony’s brand, they seem to have a tendency to . . . redistribute themselves.”
Mason looked down to discover he was clutching his suitcase close to his chest, like a baby with a rag doll. Ridiculous. He lowered his arms, turning from the man in the gray suit just long enough to close the gap in the line.
“I’d be happy to offer you the window seat, if you’d like,” Mason said over his shoulder as they continued toward the bus. “Or the aisle, if you’d rather stretch your le—”
Mason stopped talking. Because he had turned around again.
And the man in the gray suit was no longer there.
“Suitcase and ticket, please, son.”
Mason whirled back around. “Huh?” he muttered to the driver, momentarily confused by his outstretched hand. Where had the large man gone off to? There was no sign of him anywhere.
“Suitcase and ticket, please.”
Mason shook himself back to his senses and handed the bus driver his ticket.
“That’ll have to go under the bus,” the driver told him, pointing to the suitcase in Mason’s hand. “No room for it up above.”
Mason felt his eyes go wide. “But I . . .” He bit his lip. You are a grown man now, he told himself. Speak with confidence. “No, thank you, sir. I’d rather keep it with me.”
The driver crossed his arms with the impatience of a man too long at his job. “Son, the bus is full, and there’s no room for that boxy bag in the overhead. Either you get on board with your suitcase underneath, or both of you stay here. It’s up to you.” And he reached around Mason’s head to grab the ticket of the next passenger in line.
* * *
When the bus pulled into the Philadelphia station, Mason Burgess was the first to disembark. He tapped his foot impatiently as the driver unlocked the baggage compartment, then fumbled through the other passengers’ bags to find his own.
It was not there.
Mason checked everywhere. He searched the other passengers as they trotted off with their own suitcases. He crawled inside the baggage compartment to check for hidden nooks and corners. He even threatened the driver. But it was no use.
The suitcase, and the one slim, irreplaceable slip of paper inside it, was gone.
Fifty-Three Years Later . . .
a cake that’s sweet, simple, and hard to dislike
FOR THE CAKE:
small sliver of butter (for greasing the cake pan)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sliced canned peaches (about 1 1/2 15-ounce cans)
2 cups flour (plus extra for preparing the cake pan)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
FOR THE FROSTING:
3 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan with butter, and flour lightly.
2. In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a fork. Set aside.
3. Drain the canned peaches into a sieve or strainer and rinse them lightly. Pat them dry with a paper towel and measure out 2 cups. Set aside.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside.
5. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, granulated sugar, and oil with a wooden spoon until just blended. Slowly add the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Carefully fold in the peaches and nuts.
6. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a cake rack to cool completely before frosting.
7. While the cake is cooling, make the frosting: In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with a mixer on medium speed, until well combined and smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Reducing the mixer to low speed, gradually add the powdered sugar and ginger, and beat until smooth. Apply frosting to the top of the cooled cake.
MISS MALLORY’S HOME FOR LOST GIRLS IN POUGHKEEPSIE, New York, was technically an orphanage, but there were hardly ever any orphans there. In fact, most days, if you peeked inside the window, you would see only one orphan, all by herself but hardly lonely, standing on her tiptoes at the kitchen counter, baking a cake.
Cadence, that was her name.
She was standing there now, Cady, deciding what to add to her bowl of batter. If you squinted through the window, you could just make her out from the chin up (Cady was barely a wisp of a thing). You’d see the shiny, crow-black hair that hung smooth as paper from the top of her head to the bottoms of her earlobes. And you’d see the petite—pixieish, Miss Mallory called them—features of her face. Tiny nose, tiny mouth, tiny ears. Cady’s eyes, however, those were large in comparison to the rest of her. Large and dark and round, and set just so on a face the color of a leaf that has clung too long to its tree.
Flour, sugar, butter, eggs. Cady studied the bowl in front of her. She closed her eyes, digging into the furthest reaches of her brain to figure out what would be the perfect addition to her cake. At last her thick black lashes fluttered open. She had it.
Cinnamon. She would make a cinnamon cake.
No one knew exactly when Cady’s Talent for baking had first emerged—just as no one knew exactly where she had come from. But one thing was certain: Cady was a Talented baker. She could bake anything, really. Pies. Muffins. Bread. Casseroles. Even the perfect pizza if she put her mind to it. But what Cady loved above all else was baking cakes. All she needed to do was to close her eyes, and she could imagine the absolutely perfect cake for any person, anywhere. A pinch more salt, a touch less cream. It was one hundred percent certain that the person she was baking for would never have tasted anything quite so heavenly in all his life. In fact, what the orphanage lacked in orphans it made up for in cake-baking trophies. Five first-place trophies from the Sunshine Bakers of America Annual Cake Bakeoff lined the front hall, one for every year that Cady had entered from the age of five, when her oven mitts swallowed h...
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