Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley

Available in paperback September 30, 2008. Available from Amazon

Dragons are extinct in the wild, but the Makepeace Institute of Integrated Dragon Studies in Smokehill National Park is home to about two hundred of the world’s remaining creatures. Until Jake discovers a dying dragon that has given birth—and one of the babies is still alive.

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I keep having these conversations with Dad.
     I'm at my computer. He says, "What are you doing?" I mutter something, because the screen has a lot of squiggles on it so he already knows what I'm doing.
     "Have you started on it yet, Jake?"
     "No," I say, probably more belligerently than I mean to. But we've had this conversation so often.
     Dad sighs. "Jake, I know I'm nagging you. But it's important."
     "So is the dictionary important!"
     "It's not important to anyone but you if only you can read it," says Dad. I glare at him, because he knows that I know that he knows it is important. But that also it's an excuse.
     "I don't know how to write it," I mutter. Like, just by the way, I do know how to write my dictionary. Which I don't either. In spite of the fancy graphics package.
     "That doesn't matter. Just write it." He tries to make a joke. "Your spelling is pretty good."
     "I don't know how"I can't make it a story!" I shout, or rather, I don't shout, I sort of hiss it through clenched teeth. I want to shout. "It's not… it doesn't have… there's no… " I can't think how to finish. I can't think how to begin.
     "It doesn't have to be a story. It doesn't have to be anything. Just put down what happened. Don't call it anything."
     Yeah, right. Make pizza without tomato sauce and mozzarella, just don't call it pizza and you'll be fine. What's the use of pizza without tomato sauce and mozzarella? Like Alice said before she saw the White Rabbit: What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations? Although the pictures are covered really well elsewhere, and the new coffee-table, drop-it-on-your-foot-and-spend-the-rest-of-your-life-on-crutches art-book version is coming out soon. Text, I have to say, by some chucklehead sensitive type. Yuck. The thought of it is one of the things that's getting me going here finally. The sensitive version will probably be way too much like a story. A fairy tale.
     But who lives a story, you know? With chapters and things. And as a fairy-tale hero if someone gave me a vorpal blade I'd probably stick it in my foot. Or get lost in the mimsy borogroves. Life is just one day after another, even when the days are really, really strange.
     Dad looks at me. I look at him. We both know what we're both thinking. I prod a couple of keys and make the squiggles go squigglier.
     "Just do the best you can," Dad says, really gently. "You're the only one who can tell it at all."
     Yes. That's the awful thundering can't-get-around-it thing. I'm the only one who can tell you about Lois. And the only way I can tell Lois' story is through me. I feel like starting by saying, I'm not a crazed egomaniac! Really I'm not! I am a crazed Lois-iac. Joke. Sort of. But it's not only the freaking hard work of trying to write it all out coherently that is stopping me now. I don't want to go back there. I've got used to… like being able to look out windows again and not worry about what I might see.
     Also a lot of the stuff that's about me is stuff I don't want to tell anyone. It's also a lot about Dad and me, and I don't want to tell those parts either, down on paper and everything, where he can read them. Which he will.
     I may not know how to write my dictionary either, but at least it's not embarrassing.
     There's another problem (I should make a list). I don't remember every day as every day, as different from the day before and the day after. Sure, I kept notes—I kept lots and lots of notes—but I seem to have left a lot of stuff out. All the connecting bits. All the conversations. All the like sane bits, if there were any sane bits. I was just trying to stay alive, those days, keep Lois and me alive. And I wasn't thinking in terms of needing to make a story out of it later on.
     And I sure don't remember every conversation I've had in the last four years. I remember a few of them—the ones that really got to me for one reason or another—but mostly, who remembers? Not me. And I bet not you either.
     I don't mean the ordinary, everyday ones you have a lot, like "How are you" and "What's for dinner" (and "I thought it was your turn to cook"). Those are easy. I mean the one-off ones. The ones why you're trying to write something someone else is going to read at all. So that why you're writing stuff is a lot of stuff you can't remember well enough to write.
     There weren't many conversations anyway. Not a lot of he-saids and she-saids, or at least not till the end, and then they're peculiar.
     But I'm going to try to tell the truth. Except for the parts I'm leaving out, because there's still stuff I'm just not going to tell you. Get used to it.
     And then, okay, I've got this far, I'm not staring out the window, my fingers are on the keyboard, the first finger is wiggling over the first key for the first letter of the first word (whatever that is)... and then I stop all over again, because how do I get your attention? Not your newspaper-headline attention—your real attention. How do I tell you the stuff you need to know if you're going to understand what happened? Because there's really no point if I'm not trying to make you understand a little.
     And, just by the way, who are you?
     Dad and Martha say that there are a lot of people—a lot of you (is it going to be easier to think of you as you? Or is that going to weird me out even more?) who don't know anything and will only be picking this up because the headlines have made you curious about the whole show and if I want to rave on a little as background that's probably okay and maybe even a good idea. I guess they figure if they get me raving they've won. They're probably right. So blame them. Although they did say rave a little.
     It would be easier to start now and go backwards, but then you'd never understand. I'm going to have to start all those years ago, and I don't know how to feel like I felt before Lois, or how to get back there to tell the story the way it happened, so maybe you'll understand. At all. A little.
     Mom should be here, reading this, and saying things like, "'Lois and I,' dear, not ‘me and Lois'." And telling me when it's "whom" and not "who". But she isn't. Mom is one of the reasons I don't want to write any of this. I keep wondering, would it have happened at all—would Lois have happened—if Mom was still here? If I hadn't been the right kind of nut case? Was being a nut case necessary?
     Eventually I thought about Eleanor. She never worries about getting anybody's attention (and that "eventually" would really annoy her), or whether they're going to be interested, if she wants something. And there are always he-saids and she-saids when Eleanor is around. She-saids, anyway. Eleanor doesn't have the hugest sense of humor in the world about herself but I think she'll get this one. That I'm going to start four and a half years ago, with her shouting at me. Also Eleanor shouting is very rememberable.

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Dragonhaven

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"A lavish and lasting treat."
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