Munro vs the coyote, p.1

Munro vs. the Coyote, page 1


Munro vs. the Coyote

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Munro vs. the Coyote


  “Groth introduces readers to a sympathetic main character who is trying to move through trauma and to a sparkling supporting cast that gives voice to disability… [Munro’s] first-person narration is strong (both sassy and heart-wrenching) and the thoughtful handling of trauma and difference, both genuine and relevant. Characters that will steal readers’ hearts with their humor and resilience, smooth writing, and a satisfying and hopeful ending make this a book to enjoy both emotionally and critically.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  “Munro vs. the Coyote is engrossing, entertaining and uplifting…This book will strike a chord and shift perspectives for many readers while it entertains them. Highly Recommended.”

  —CM Magazine

  “A great tale about friendship and open-mindedness, and accepting differences in others.”

  —Susin Nielsen, award-winning author of Optimists Die First

  “A celebration of all that makes us weird, wonderful, and unique. Groth creates characters who learn resilience in the face of grief and discrimination and does it with the perfect balance of humor and heart.”

  —Eileen Cook, bestselling author of With Malice

  “In addition to some laugh-out-loud humour, this page-turner has some heart-wrenching moments...It is a richly layered book about love, the tenacity of the human spirit, and our capacity to mend. Darren Groth is a brilliant storyteller... This book was a delight to review.”

  —The Ormsby Review

  Copyright © 2017 Darren Groth

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

  Groth, Darren, 1969–, author

  Munro vs. the coyote / Darren Groth.

  Issued in print and electronic formats.

  ISBN 978-1-4598-1409-7 (hardcover).—ISBN 978-1-4598-1410-3 (pdf).—ISBN 978-1-4598-1411-0 (epub)

  I. Title. II. Title: Munro versus the coyote.

  PS8613.R698M86 2017 jC813’.6 C2017-900848-X C2017-900849-8

  First published in the United States, 2017

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2017932501

  Summary: In this novel for teens, Munro Maddux goes to Australia on a student exchange in order to try and deal with his younger sister’s death.

  Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

  Cover illustration by Robert John Paterson

  Edited by Sarah Harvey

  Cover design by Rachel Page

  Author photo by Lauren White


  20 19 18 17 • 4 3 2 1

  Orca Book Publishers is proud of the hard work our authors do and of the important stories they create. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it or did not check it out from a library provider, then the author has not received royalties for this book. The ebook you are reading is licensed for single use only and may not be copied, printed, resold or given away. If you are interested in using this book in a classroom setting, we have digital subscriptions that feature multi user, simultaneous access to our books that are easy for your students to read. For more information, please contact [email protected]

  For W, C, J and especially for Mum, Dad and my two brothers, who were meant to be my sisters.

  And all people live, not by reason of any care they have for themselves, but by the love for them that is in other people.




















  Have you always wanted to travel to other FAB parts of the world?

  Not so much.

  Do you want to immerse yourself in an AWESOME new culture?

  If it helps.

  Are you ready for the RAD adventure you’ve always dreamt about?

  Not my dream.

  Then YOU are srsly the sort of student YOLO Canada is looking for!

  I srsly doubt it.

  I shut the handbook, turn it over so I don’t have to look at the title on the front page—Munro Maddux, You Da Man!—and stuff it back in my carry-on. A horn sounds. The baggage carousel grinds into motion. Passengers from my flight push forward, hoping their bags will be the first to appear. There’s plenty of chatter around me.

  “Can you believe we’re here?”

  “I can’t wait to go to the beach!”

  “Do you think there’ll be kangaroos hopping down our street?”

  Most of these people are too old or too young to be on a student exchange. Still, they’re the ones who should be reading the YOLO handbook. These are YOLO-type folk. Loud. Lame. Memes-in-waiting.

  YOLO. Worst name ever. My parents wanted to go with a more established agency—YES or Youth for Understanding or ASSE. All three showed me the hand when my tenth-grade report card hit their application inboxes. So YOLO it was. I figured an organization that had a god-awful name wouldn’t be too picky about their candidates. I was right. Their selection criteria—which included Student motivation and commitment must be to the MAX! and Student academic grade level must be a WICKED B AVERAGE!—turned out to be more of a wish list than a hard line. They didn’t seem to care that my marks were less than a WICKED B AVERAGE! or that my application essay asked if they’d be open to a bribe.

  Maybe they took pity on me after Mom’s email about Evie.


  My suitcase eases up the conveyor belt and tumbles down onto the carousel. The ruby-red ribbon on the handle flutters like a flag in the wind. I heave the bag off the roundabout, then untie the ribbon and hold it in my hand.

  Here we are, Evie. Where you always wanted to be.

  I stuff the ribbon in my carry-on, along with the YOLO handbook. Friggin’ YOLO. You only live once? Total BS. Some people don’t get to live at all.

  The pickup guy is waiting for me in the terminal. He holds a sign that reads MUNRO MADDUX, YEAH! For a second I consider ditching him to hitch a ride.

  “Welcome to Brisbane!” he says, presenting a fist. I hesitate, then give it a gentle bump. “I’m Lars, and this is the beginning of six months that will change you forever!”

  “Here’s hoping, Lars.”

  “Hey, you can call me Lars And In Charge.” He snorts and gives a time-out sign. “Just kidding! You don’t have to call me that. I’m here to take you to your host family!”

  I don’t know what I was expecting when I touched down in Brisbane, but I can say with some level of confidence that it wasn’t Lars. For starters, he’s not an Aussie. He’s Canadian, sounds like he grew up out east, probably Toronto. He’s also…well, old. Thinning hair. Bit of a gut. Gray in the stubble. He looks like one of Dad’s poker buddies.

  We walk to the parking lot. Lars lays out a Wikipedia of factoids: the blistering sun, the crazy traffic, the current cricket match, co
ckatoos, thunderstorms, the sun again, water restrictions, skin cancer, the long sleeves and broad-brimmed hats that are stock summer wear. His first question comes after we’ve hit the road in his steam room of a car.

  “What you got there, Munro, if you don’t mind me asking?”

  I do mind, but I’m sure Lars minds that I’m reading instead of staring wide-eyed and openmouthed out of the window.

  “Info package,” I reply. “For my new school. Sussex State High.”

  “Ah, very good! Although I’m guessing you probably already read it cover to cover on the way over.”

  I shake my head. “Didn’t get a chance.”


  “Flight was only fifteen hours.”

  He squirms in his seat and hits the AM button on the dash. A nasally talk-show guy punches through the airwaves. He’s got a bug up his butt about “illegals.” Lars switches to a station playing The Nineties at Nine and holds up a hand in apology. I nod.

  “That dude is soooo un-YOLO,” I say. “Am I right?”

  Lars smiles thinly into the rearview mirror.

  With some band called Regurgitator and its catchy song “Polyester Girl” providing the soundtrack, I return to the Sussex info package. The big thing that jumps off the pages: the formal uniform. I’ve seen it before, but it’s for real now that I’m in Australia. Pants, shirt, tie. Pleated skirts for the girls. The getup is strongly encouraged on Wednesdays; the rest of the week you can wear the sports uniform.

  The package has other nuggets of info about the school. Its motto is Climb the Highest Peak. I Google Earth-ed Brisbane’s highest peak, Mount Coot-tha, a while back—it’s like the bunny hill on Cypress Bowl. Climbing that should be a breeze. The sports lineup includes Boys’ Touch and Girls’ Touch. I’m not sure which one to sign up for. One of the electives is Tourism. The ski trip is in July. The school is big on volunteering.

  Overall, I can’t say I’m looking forward to being a student at Sussex State High. But I don’t have zero desire to show either.

  That’s a big improvement.

  Over Christmas, four months into eleventh grade, nine months after Evie’s death, I was done with school. I didn’t hate it—I just couldn’t function anymore. The people at Delta Secondary School weren’t to blame. They had found a way through their grief, planting a cherry blossom by the admin block, printing a special We will remember you forever newsletter with dozens of kind quotes, flying the BC flag at half-mast. Hundreds turned up to her funeral. It was helpful for everyone.

  Everyone except me.

  I had flashbacks. Chest pains. My right hand ached constantly. I got angry at other students walking too slow or brushing my shoulder or giving any hint of side-eye. And there was a voice. The Coyote, my therapist, Ollie, called it. Teasing, taunting. Barking. Sometimes biting. It played at being people I knew—teachers and students, friends and relatives. Even Mom and Dad from time to time. That was the worst. Four months into grade eleven, I was hearing the Coyote everywhere in school, not just on the stretch of corridor between the library and Mrs. Bouchard’s room. My problem had become something central, at the very core of my being. And it wouldn’t matter if I moved to Burnsview or Seaquam or Sands—the Coyote would follow.

  On New Year’s Day, I straight up told Mom and Dad I wanted out of school. For how long? they asked. I said I didn’t know. They balked. I pleaded. They reasoned. I resisted. They sympathized. I punched a wall. Alternatives were proposed and rejected. Homeschooling was an added pressure none of us could handle. Distance learning was, in Mom’s eyes, a “pretend education.”

  How about you work with us for a bit? Dad suggested. Just until you figure things out.

  I couldn’t do it. The Evelyn Maddux Foundation was a great thing for sure. In just seven and a half months, it had raised over 150 grand for Down syndrome awareness and research. More important, it was Mom and Dad’s rehab, their way of keeping Evie’s memory alive. It would never be that for me. Seeing the name Evelyn Maddux every day, hearing it spoken out loud, selling ribbons and buttons and bracelets that only existed because she was no longer with us…compared to that, school was a breeze.

  Around sunset, with heavy clouds hinting at a snowy start to the new year, Mom stumbled upon a possibility with promise: What about a student exchange?

  My first thought was, What good would that do? But over the next couple of days, the idea persisted. Then it grew on me. Then it grew around me. Ollie told me in every therapy session that the flashbacks, the physical symptoms, the bad associations, the loss of connection to others, the Coyote…recovering from all of it started with finding a place for it to go. Could that place be a country? And not just any country—the one that was Evie’s obsession?

  I wonder if Mr. Adams is here. Maybe I’ll run into him. That would be some serious coincidence. Population of Brisbane’s only about, oh, two million.

  I wonder if he still remembers you, Evie. For sure he must. The eleven-year-old you. That’s the age you’ll always be to him. He’s lucky to remember you like that.

  Thirteen years, four months, eight days—that’s the age you’ll always be to me.

  Australia. Home of Mr. Adams, Evie’s sixth-grade teacher. He told me once that he saw school as the sky and his students as stars. And Evie shone brightest. In his class she learned to swim and put up a tent and cook a dessert called pavlova and throw a rugby pass like a seasoned pro. The inspiration of Mr. Adams soon became the aspiration of Evelyn Maddux. She planned to visit his home state of Queensland. She imagined holding a koala and playing a didgeridoo, running on a beach where the white sand squeaked under her feet. She loved Chris Hemsworth and was determined to marry him. She made plane tickets out of cardboard and crayon. She searched online for houses for sale in suburban Brisbane. The dream of Australia gave her purpose and filled up her heart.

  It wouldn’t stay filled. The hole between her ventricles made sure of that.

  The car slows. Lars flips the indicator and turns in to a short driveway that fronts a beige house with pine-green trim. Two flags, side by side—one Canadian, one Australian—are tied to the top railing of the front patio. An old bedsheet is suspended underneath, the words MUNRO, WELCOME TO AUSTRALIA, MATE! in blue spray paint. Lars parks behind a car that looks a bit like a Mustang, cuts the engine and pip-pips the horn. He turns, forearm propped on the passenger seat.

  “Your host family awaits your pleasure, Master Maddux.”

  On the YOLO Canada website, there’s a series of short videos about past exchanges. Each one is a softball lobbed toward home plate, all joy and laughter and zit-free faces and This is the greatest thing ever! and How can I possibly go back home? They all have over-the-top, lame titles. On the Streets of Philadelphia. Hungary for Life. Smile and Say Swiss Cheese! Been There, London That!

  No way the videos are legit. The people are real enough, sure, but the bubblegum tone? No doubt there would’ve been tough times. That’s life. That’s truth. And even if the occasional student exchange ends up being a Disney movie, it doesn’t mean it will happen to me.

  The Hyde family isn’t the problem. They’re friendly and easygoing. Soon after Lars’s departure, and following a quick tour of chez Hyde, Mom Nina—a hummingbird with reddish hair and a thing for purple clothes—sent me to bed for a “nana nap” so I could start resetting my body clock. Since I woke up, she’s been studying for Munro Maddux 101. What do I like to eat and drink, what are my favorite TV shows, which video games do I play? She writes everything down on an MM list she posts on the fridge.

  Dad Geordie’s been welcoming in a different way. A big barrel of a “bloke,” he introduced himself as Dr. Jekyll and wanted to know if I’d ever come across a grizzly (I said I hadn’t and told him I probably wouldn’t be talking to him if I had). He shook his head and admitted he couldn’t understand why Australia had the reputation of being such a dangerous place when in the True North Strong and Free there were bears and mountain lions and bloody great moose looking
to make a mess of you. He also warned that any Dad joke I didn’t laugh at (see Dr. Jekyll) would result in a grounding.

  Son Rowan—only child, also in eleventh grade—seems chill. According to Nina, he’s a gifted cook, a real chance to get on MasterChef one day. According to Rowan, he’s a snowboard pro-in-waiting. He’s already asked me about Whistler three times. Each time he sounds me out, Nina gets a look on her face like she got caught in the rain wearing socks and sandals. As a team the Hydes seem close, fun, free of the dark clouds that can hang over a family. It’s a vibe I haven’t encountered in a while.

  I hope the Hydes haven’t got their hearts set on being in a YOLO video. I’m not like all those made-for-TV teens. I’m a ringer, an outlier. I’m here because my little sister never made it, and I’m stuck with the fallout of her death. I’m the stand-in big brother and the psycho surviving son.

  They don’t make videos about those guys.

  “So, Munro,” asks Nina, “you’re the only child in the Maddux family, hey?”

  I steal a glance at the others. Geordie is at the barbecue, squeezing lemon on the barramundi fish he bought especially for my first supper Down Under. Rowan is chest deep in the Jacuzzi, mirrored aviator shades on, Red Bull in hand. Neither looks like he’s listening in, but I sense they are.

  I shift my feet from the camping chair’s footrest and sit up straight. This moment is important. Weighty. They’ll be shocked. Munro had a younger sister and she died at age thirteen probably wasn’t part of their student-exchange binder. So it’s up to me to reveal the Maddux dark cloud. And, to be honest, it’s okay. I get to tell the story on my terms.

  They get the basics. Evie had Down syndrome. She had a ventricular septal defect, a hole in the heart, that was inoperable. It was thought to be low-ish risk, but it didn’t turn out that way. Last March she collapsed at school, and efforts to revive her were unsuccessful. She’s buried in the Boundary Bay cemetery in Delta.

  You left out so much, Munro.

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