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In a courageous debut novel, Holly M.
McGhee explores the loss that shakes one girls
worldand the unexpected consequences
of the things we do for love.
Sussy and Guy are best friends, fourth-graders
who share their silliest thoughts and deepest
hopes. One afternoon, the two of them decide
they must have something of their very own to
love. After a trip to the pet store, they bring home
a spotted lizard, the one with the ancient face
and starfish toes, and they name her Matylda
(with a y so its all her own). With Guy leading
the way, they feed her and give her an origin
story fit for a warrior lizard. A few weeks later,
on a simple bike ride, there is a terrible
accident. As hard as it is, Sussy is sure she can
hold on to Guy if she can find a way to love
Matylda enough. But in a startling turn of events,
Sussy reconsiders what it means to grieve and
heal and hope and go on, for her own sake
and Matyldas. By turns both devastating and
buoyant, this story is a brave one, showing how
far we can justify going for a real and true friend.
Holly M. McGhee, who formerly wrote under the name Hallie
Durand, is the author of three picture books, including Mitchells
License and Mitchell Goes Bowling, both illustrated by Tony Fucile,
and a chapter-book series. She lives with her family, an antisocial
dog, and two leopard geckos (Speedy and Midnight) in Maplewood,
New Jersey.


On sale March 14, 2017

HC: 978-0-7636-8951-3 $16.99 ($19.99 CAN)
Ages 812 224 pages
Also available as an e-book

A Note from Author

Photo by CRS

Holly M. McGhee
I began to write my first middle-grade novel, the book that would
become Matylda, Bright and Tender, in the summer of 2012. My
oldest child was beginning to recover from a long and complicated
illness right when Sussy Reed blew into my conscious; I took that as
a sign and I paid attention. By the end of that first summer, I had
twenty pages cobbled together, but I didnt know what Sussys story
was yet . . . only that, like my daughters, it had something to do with

As the other characters began to appear, Sussys friend Guy Hose and their leopard
gecko, Matylda, I understood the story had something to do with my own survival, too, and
a fatal accident I experienced in my youth. Id been haunted by it for many years, and I
knew in my bones that Sussy Reed had come to lead me through it.
But another year went by. . . .
The following fall, I had a disturbing and unforgettable dream, in which my fingernails
were blue. It was an urgent message. I knew that if I didnt find a way to write this book, I
would lose a part of myself. Thats when I made my commitment to Sussy Reed. I began
typing every day, on NJ Transit during my morning commute and after my children went
to sleep at night, sometimes with my eyes closed to better hear the words.
Although this story is entirely made up (except for the cricket-trap design), my own
emotional experience was its muse. Sussys best friend, Guy Hose, is the kind of friend I
wished for as a child, the kind of friend who loves you exactly as you are. And Matylda, a
character inspired by my sons leopard geckos, is a mythical lizard of my own dreams and
imagination, a noble survivor like Sussy.
I am thankful to these characters for the gifts they brought to me as I listened to what
they had to say, and I am so happy and surprised that their story turned out to be a great
love story. I never would have guessed that as I was writing. This novel is about the
boundless love we can have for each other and for ourselves, and how that love can be
revealed in the most astonishing and sometimes terrifying ways. Its about the knowledge
that love makes anything possible and bears all things.
Its my deepest wish that Sussy and Guys story will bring hope to those who read it,
even the youngest among them, the way it did for me. Theres a light on there in the
darknesssometimes hard to see, sometimes flickering, but always on. Stay on the path
of love and stick with your friends; choose love and youll find the light.

Holly M. McGhee