Paranormal secret: In Suzanne Morgan Williams’ YA novel, ‘Sierra Blue,’ a teen who sees animal auras learns that it’s OK to be different

Nevada author Suzanne Morgan Williams’ new novel, Sierra Blue, tells the story of 14-year-old Magic Kendall, who lives in a small, rural town in the high desert country Morgan Williams knows and loves. Magic can see auras around animals—and that’s the last thing she wants anyone to know. When her best friend in Tillamook, Oregon lets her secret out, she escapes from small-town rumors and cyberbullying to her great aunt’s horse ranch in the High Sierra.

Magic finally feels safe, but when she witnesses a terrible horse trailer crash and meets an an injured thoroughbred named Sierra Blue, everything changes. What will she risk to save the horse? Will her new friends find out the secret she’s trying to guard?

The story, which Williams said was inspired by her cousin’s work with thoroughbred racehorses, is geared for animal lovers, horse racing fans, anyone who likes books set in the contemporary West, and anyone who’s ever felt compelled to hide their true selves to seem “normal.”

Williams is a Nevada Arts Council teaching artist and was chosen Member of the Year by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Her 2010 young adult novel Bull Rider won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. She lives in Pleasant Valley, in unincorporated Washoe County. You can learn more about the author on her website.

Sierra Blue is available at Sundance Books and Music, Grassroots Books, The Pathways Spirit crystal shop in Reno, The Depot Gallery in Sparks, Nevada Gift Shop (formerly the Nevada Day Store) in Carson City or on Amazon.

Suzanne Morgan Williams will sign her book from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17 at Barnes and Noble, 5555 S. Virginia St.

Excerpt from ‘Sierra Blue’—Chapter One

No one ever asked me how I wanted to be. I just was. And being me was – different. When I was born, Mom got it into her head to name me under the stars, like in an ancient ritual. And since there were no stars to be seen in the birthing room at the hospital in Tillamook County, Oregon, three days later, she and my dad carried me down a rocky path to the beach in the rain. Dad held me over his head while she took deep yoga breaths, in and out, and let the surf curl around her toes waiting for a name to come to her. Then, just when Dad’s arms were about to give out, the wind gusted and one streak of summer lightning shot from cloud to cloud, turning the sky clear electric blue. “It’s like magic,” Mom said. And so that was my name. Magic.

I’m pretty sure I was the only person named Magic in all of Tillamook County although we had our share of girls named Charity and Peace. Whenever a new kid started at school, they had to make some comment. “Magic Trick.” “Ooooh, I’m scared are you going to turn me into a frog?” The jokes were lame. But then I began to think, maybe there was something to this name. No, I don’t mean I was destined to be a magician. But I was born funny. Strange. Kind of like being born with a tail, but they can remove that. It was about the colors. And the lightning.

When I was little, I thought everyone saw the lights. I thought everyone saw the squirrels’ little copper auras flash as they jumped between fir trees. My mom knew because I’d told her – a bunch of times. But Mom had changed from the woman who named me under the stars. As she got older and “real life” set in, she’d traded in tie-dye for linen shorts and her yoga mat for the upholstery fabrics in her design studio. If lightning split the sky into a kaleidoscope of turquoise and green, if I jumped and told her it was so bright it blinded me, she’d say, “Shhh. You’re imagining things,” or worse, “Don’t talk about that.” Pretty soon I didn’t. 

But my friend, Celine, guessed when we were only eight. “Don’t tell anyone,” she said. “They’ll think you’re crazy.” So it was our secret.

Then, the summer before ninth grade, Mom and Dad took Celine and me camping. It was like a yearly tradition. Besides being at the beach, Celine and I got to rent horses from the Surf Stables. We’d pitched our tent, set out the ice chest and banked the fire pit with dry pine and cedar ready for our campfire. Celine and I slipped and skidded down the sandy bank to the beach. I pointed to a wall of ink blue clouds, just as the wind picked up, smashing the surf harder against the rocks. “It’s gonna rain.”

“Duh.” Celine tossed a piece of driftwood at me. “Are you a meteorologist now?”

“Anybody can see, it’s a storm.” I pitched the stick back.

Then, the lightning cracked. I jumped and covered my eyes.

“You all right?” Celine asked.

The strike shook the ground. Energy lit up around me and I rubbed the after images out of my eyes. “It always surprises me. I’m okay.”

“We should go back. Race you.”

We ran up the hill. At the campsite the morning’s fog dripped off madrona leaves spinning silver chains along spider webs. No rain yet. But Mom was already hauling things into the tents. I helped my dad lug the ice chest back to the SUV.

Celine perched herself on the picnic table, messing around on her smart phone.

“You could help,” I said.

“I will.” But she stayed put. 

Honestly, she could be annoying. “Hurry up, the rain, you know, it’s coming.” Just then the wind hit, spraying us with the first big drops.

“Into the tent. Come on, Celine, your phone works in there too.” Mom ducked through the flap. We all squeezed in after her, listening as the canvas rattled, the rain drummed.

Celine waved her phone toward me. “Look at this.” I leaned over her shoulder. Smoke curled across the screen around a shimmering gold candle. Then the title faded in. Your Psychic Quotient. “Isn’t it cool? Being psychic is so in.”

“Shhh. Why would I care?” But Celine knew exactly why. I wasn’t just seeing colors anymore. There was other stuff, crazy stuff going on in my head. I glared at the screen and back at her. Maybe Celine didn’t care about our secret, but I did. “Shut up.”

“Magic, that’s rude.” Mom pulled a sleeping bag closer around her.

“Sorry.”

When the rain let up, Mom unzipped the tent flap and crawled out. Celine grabbed my hand, pulling me across the camp site. She clicked open that screen again, moving it back and forth in front of me. “You’d totally ace this test. And maybe you could make money reading palms or something. We could go shopping in Portland.”

“Will you be quiet? I can’t read palms or tell fortunes. It’s just the auras.” 

“So tell me about mine.”

“You know I see animals’, not people’s auras.” That was a lie. Or half a lie. You could get in trouble knowing too much about people, so I didn’t look. At least not often.

“Well, take the test. It would be so awesome if you could, like predict the questions on the social studies test this year. Mr. Anders is hard.” She shoved the phone into my hand.

“That’s so fake. Forget it.” And then I felt it again. Energy. A premonition. Something was happening. Soon.