Cover Reveal: HEARTS STILL BEATING by Brooke Archer
The next dystopian YA obsession is coming, and we’re here with breaking news: Hearts Still Beating has a cover! Gripping, romantic, and impossible to put down, this dark and immersive post-apocalyptic debut novel is about two teen girls who loved each other before the end of the world — and before one of them became infected with the virus that turned her into a monster. Perfect for fans of Krystal Sutherland, Adam Silvera, and the darkly human side of the HBOMax horror-drama, The Last of Us, coming to shelves April 2, 2024!
Seventeen-year-old Mara is dead—mostly. Infected with a virus that brought the dead back to life and the world to its knees, she wakes up in a facility to learn a treatment for the disease has been found. No longer a Tick, Mara is placed in an experimental resettlement program. But her recovery is complicated by her destination: she’s sent to live with the best friend she hasn’t seen since the world ended—and since their first and only kiss.
Seventeen-year-old Rory is alive—barely. With impaired mobility from an injury and a dead sister, Rory’s nightmares are just as monstrous as the Ticks that turned her former best friend. Even after the Island—one of a handful of surviving communities—rebuilds itself, Rory is prepared for the Ticks to return at any time. She never expected them to come in the form of the only girl she’s ever loved.
As the girls struggle with their pasts and the people they’ve become, and with the Island’s fragile peace in the balance, Rory and Mara must lean on each other to survive—or risk losing the girl they love all over again.
Scroll down to see the GORGEOUS cover and read a sneak peek–and remember to preorder your copy here!
Designed by: Danielle Ceccolini
Art by: Garrigosa Studio
THE DARK DAYS
I watch time unfold, and a whisper reminds me I used to concern myself with it, but the voice belongs to something too far out of reach to listen to. It belongs to someone who isn’t here anymore, someone I will not find again.
A new voice, the girl with dark eyes and wicked smile, is an echo, but her face is not. Her face, pressed next to another through a cloudy surface.
When I try to reach her, to rip her to pieces and erase the reminders she forces out of me, I smash into something. The faces don’t disappear until the window—a word snatched from somewhere deep inside and lost as soon as it comes—is painted in a red so dark it looks black.
Her voice stays. The one I can’t let go of. Her figure grows smaller, next to another familiar silhouette, until the second fades, and the girl does, too.
Then, the sound of metal breaking and the whine of a hinge. A familiar scent, lemon and salt and sweat, wafts through the house.
I am free. And so very hungry.
When the doctors ask what I remember, the answer they want to hear is “Nothing.” If only it were true.
Dr. Benitez clears her throat, drawing my attention away from a poster of a lion with the word resilience typed beneath it. The doctor’s hair is slicked back today, and she’s wearing eyeshadow, an odd eggplant color pressed into her lids. I wonder if she has a big date tonight.
I’m not sure if people date anymore. Not that it matters, not to someone like me. My romantic prospects died when I did.
“How much do you remember of your time under the virus’s influence, Mara?” She stands two feet from where I’m propped up on the rusting exam table, her brow creased in concern. I used to think her puckered expression meant something, but in my six months at the facility, I’ve come to understand Dr. Benitez defaults to anxiety the way I default to indifference.
We all had to find our own coping methods when the world ended. Some of us hardened. Some cracked. Some shattered.
I haven’t figured out which applies to me yet. I didn’t think I’d have to. I thought my time was up the moment the infected man closed his teeth around my wrist.
How much do you remember?
I shake my head. Speech was a mountain to climb in the beginning, the phrases and definitions unearthing themselves and clawing back to my tongue, so I slid into silence for my first month. It’s become another default.
Dr. Benitez purses her lips, but she doesn’t question me. I can’t imagine I’m the first person between these walls to lie. Every single room in this building harbors monsters. Monsters with stories and secrets. Three hundred of us relearning humanity.
My heart beats on a semiregular basis and my lungs are teaching themselves to take in consistent breaths, but none of it matters.
A nasty scar traces down the doctor’s neck from an old wound. The outline of a tranquilizer gun, tucked against her hip, is visible underneath her faded lab coat. I don’t blame her for taking precautions. I don’t trust myself, either, tossed back into this bright, loud, overwhelming world.
She jots something onto her cerulean plastic clipboard. “Dyebucetin varies in its effectiveness in the reparation of cells in the cerebral cortex. It’ll take time.”
Dr. Benitez isn’t sure if the treatment will bring me back to life. For all the doctors know, the Altered might drop dead—really dead—one day, or grow third arms, or lose all our extremities. The last two are more my illogical fear than the doctors’, but I used to think the living dead were illogical, and then I became one.
“And what about the nightmares?”
I grind my teeth. Admitting to the night terrors that have plagued me since I woke to my third life was an early day’s mistake. Memories of the creature I was when the virus hijacked my body and the girl I was before.
What do I remember?
Jeans rolled up to asphalt-torn knees and four legs distorted by the pool water. The image pulses with the kick of her feet. She complains her eyes are muddy and boring, and if I were braver, I’d tell her how the sun pulls out flecks of gold and auburn in her irises; I’d tell her looking into them is like drowning. But I am not brave.
“Stopped,” I lie. “Sweet dreams on this end.”
“Please,” the man says, and I know the word used to mean something, but I’ve long stopped caring. His garbled screams are a quiet hum behind his heartbeat and the blood pumping in his veins, warm and alive.
I take his skull between my hands, slamming down, down, down, until he stops screaming.
Dr. Benitez snorts a laugh, covering her mouth with a hand. With a shake of her head, she says, “I suppose it’s a positive sign your sense of humor survived the virus.”
The virus. It sounds so harmless when she says it. Like Letalis Tichnosis—the Tick—was the common cold, and not an ancient disease trapped in a glacier, waiting for its chance to escape again. The virus didn’t just gnaw on our brains; it chewed the world to shreds.
Instead of a response, I give her a tiny smile, because it’s what she wants, and I almost mean it. She smiles back as if she’s forgotten where she is, what I am. She does it often: treats me like I’m human. I am anything but. I’m a patchwork quilt of lacerations and punctures and dry open wounds that have woken up and are protesting their existence as I shuffle back toward life.
Some time ago, I was shot straight through the shoulder, and blood oozes from the cut each time I raise my arm over my head. Three of the fingers on my left hand are gone, and until the doctors stitched it up, I’d worn the skin and muscle surrounding the bone like a gross-looking claw. To top it off, two large slashes make an X bisecting my nose. I am better off than most, and as pesky as the doctor’s questions are, they are kinder than mine would be if the roles were reversed, so complaints are scarce.
“It was humor”—I pause to wrangle my occasionally rebellious tongue—“or my humanity.”
It is a joke, a swing, and if it’s a miss, all of our future sessions will be awkward. After another pause, Dr. Benitez smiles, rounding the desk and dropping into a peeling leather chair.
“Whatever the reason,” she says, “those are the parts of you that you need to hold on to. The parts that are human.” She falls silent, focusing on her clipboard long enough for my heart to thump out a soft beat.
“There’s something else I wanted to discuss with you.” There is no question mark, and so no obligation to answer. She sighs and continues, “I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors about the resettlement program.”
She seems to realize I don’t plan on saying anything. “It’s true we intend to release some of you into the care of your guardians.”
She’s being cautious, circling a truth she isn’t sure I’m aware of. I still say nothing, and though she takes the time to sigh dramatically once more, she doesn’t press me.
“You’re going home, Mara,” she says. “That’s what I’m telling you.” She winces. “Not home, per se, but we have located some of your kin.” Home is not something that exists anymore. Not for me. The only blood I have left is my sister, if she’s still alive. And she’s the last person on this earth who’d want to see me.
“Kin?” I ask, and Dr. Benitez smiles, clearly proud to have coaxed the syllable off my lips, but it fades as fast as it came, and the following silence is strained.
“Your godparents. Unfortunately, your parents are—” I fix her with the coldest glare I can, and my monstrous state lends me the advantage, killing the rest of Dr. Benitez’s sentence before it reaches air.
Dead. My parents are dead. And I killed them. But she doesn’t know that.
“Your godparents are living a few hours south. In one of the coastal communities,” she says.
Another thump ripples from my chest, a single beat of a bruised heart.
“Samantha and Isaac Blake.”
“I know who they are.” My words crackle like electricity. Dr. Benitez’s brows arch to her hairline, and she drops her eyes to the paperwork on her desk, chipped-paint fingers ghosting across the inked letters.
“They’ll be picking you up next Sunday. You’ll be released into their custody.”
I shake my head. “No.” Anything but this, anyone but them. It can’t be the Blakes. I’m not sure what I thought was waiting for me after all this, if I thought anything at all, but it didn’t involve them.
I twist the fraying and stained woven-string bracelet on my wrist— all I have left from my first life, and from her. Aurora. Her name triggers a flurry of memories, bright and bursting with life, a happier time with a better me. Me before everything fell apart.
I put most of my energy into keeping her somewhere I can’t see her, keeping her name locked deep in my gut, but it slips through and shrouds me in warmth. The name means remembering, which means feeling. It means wondering whether she survived and considering the possibility she didn’t.