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Book Title

"The Magpie"

Aaron Menzel

Word Count


Young Adult

80,000 - 100,000


What's it all about?

"The Magpie" follows teenager Arlo Roth as he struggles to adjust to his new home: a boarding school in South Korea. Underground boxing matches, treacherous cross country races, secret meetings in the woods, chopsticks--all of these things are new to Arlo, but thankfully he’s met a few friends who can ease him out of culture shock. As Arlo adjusts to his new home, he and his classmates delve into the complexities of the boarding school as well as the intricate workings of cultural identity in modern-day South Korea.



Arlo heard his shoulder crack as he struggled against the grip of the upperclassmen. His heels ground furrows into the damp earth and dirt clung to his skin as unseen hands pressed down on his ankles. Silently, the circle of students opened to allow the last member to enter, blocking the view of the sky. Arlo jerked forward again, but the fingers tightened until he could feel every woodchip and pinecone beneath him. The boy straddled Arlo and removed his backpack. Sinking down, he perched on Arlo’s chest as he unzipped the front pouch.

“Jogeumdo,” he said as he extracted a bundle from the backpack, “I was hoping I’d be able to save these for someone next year. Maybe give them to Ballack. See, firecrackers are valuable here in Korea. They’re technically illegal, so to have a whole string, well, I’d better count my blessings.”

The pressure on Arlo’s chest increased as the boy rocked forward. From above, Arlo heard the raspy call of a magpie until Ballack loosed a stone from his slingshot and brought quiet to the clearing. The boy twisted off one of the maroon plugs and twirled it between his fingers. He caught Arlo’s eye and laughed as he bent down, hovering just above Arlo’s face. Arlo threw his head forward, attempting to connect with the boy’s nose, but a pair of hands shoved him back down. Arlo could see the stubble on the boy’s chin, smell the cologne, and only when Arlo looked into the dark brown eyes did he see the feverish excitement. The glint of calculations could still be made out in the corners of his smile and in the tilt of his brows. However, an inescapable wildness had overcome the boy’s eyes and Arlo had to look away.

“You know,” the boy continued, “you're not the first to try this, Roth. The Dokkaebi have ridden out similar threats—not ones so personal—but ones that stung. There have been students before, students who didn’t understand our reasoning. You see, the Dokkaebi don’t really care about being in control, we just want an even playing field. We’ve been ripped from our homes and thrown into a strange country where the deck is stacked against us. A leg up is the least we deserve.” The boy reached into his back pocket and withdrew a lighter. Sparks burst into flames as the wheel spun, before they sputtered, died, and were ignited again.

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