You try to ignore the whispers, but they won’t stop. The sirens outside are getting louder. You close your eyes. You want to want to go home.
Laika desperately wishes for a new life. At fourteen, she’s hardened and independent, living on the streets of Southern California. She’s finally free of her volatile home but yearns for true stability.
As Graham, a waiter at a local Russian restaurant, watches Laika steal and struggle to survive, he sees there is something else going on. Something dangerous. An insidious disease that gnaws at her mind and drags her deeper into a world of chaos and delusion.
Laika brings to light the often-shrouded world of paranoid schizophrenia. It also examines the socially stigmatized issues of homelessness, addiction, and PTSD, in the hopes of fostering greater awareness and compassion.
Advance Praise for Laika
“Kate Kort’s second novel, Laika, is a chilling yet moving exploration of an embattled girl’s plummet into paranoid schizophrenia while living homeless on mean city streets. The novel keeps the reader close via an unexpected point of view, brilliantly rendered. Laika could be one more tragic runaway if not for Graham, a middle-aged man with his own psychic battle and a huge heart, who illustrates the novel’s (and life’s) greatest lesson: to be decent human beings, we must care for those who suffer, no matter how damaged we are ourselves.”
—Susan Swartwout, author of Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit
"Laika is a force from its start, propelling readers through a story that's somehow both tender and unsettling, mysterious and revelatory, intimate and widespread. If you want complex, intriguing characters with a plot that will keep you guessing, trust me: Laika is your next favorite book."
—Anne Corbitt, author of Rules for Lying, winner, Nilsen Prize for First Novel
“Kate Kort’s Laika grabs the reader as few YA novels do. In fact, it transcends the genre by creating two characters—Laika and Graham—who represent the dark side of an American life few like to acknowledge. A street kid haunted by psychological demons, Laika survives by her wits in a world that doesn’t particularly care for damaged kids. That is, until an equally damaged adult takes her under his wing. Told in second-person—a point of view that can feel annoying in less skilled hands—Laika offers a relevance that seems particularly important now as our health-care system comes into question. We can only wonder how many more Laika’s we will see.”
—Michael C. White, author of Resting Places and Soul Catcher
“Laika first grabs the reader’s attention by its use of a second person point of view, a narrative decision brilliantly suited to convey the thoughts of a fourteen year old devolving into the separations of paranoid schizophrenia. Its fresh take on the picaresque novel shares many of the genre’s characteristics, including realistic depictions of street life and its roguish characters, and a protagonist who is sympathetic despite her stealing and lying her way towards continued survival. Ultimately, though, Laika transcends any easy demarcations, since it insists we consider how much we will allow the lives of seriously damaged people to impose on our own humanity, and, more importantly, how ready we are to believe in the heroic potential of those suffering from mental handicaps. Without ever straying from its gripping, lyrical realism, Laika leads us to not only compassion, but also to admiration and hope. “
—Joe Benevento, author of Saving Saint Teresa and After
“Laika Ephrem is a child whose world is darkness and Graham a man who has experienced some darkness of his own. A good-hearted waiter who has seen her stealing food to survive, he knows she’s in trouble and he only wants to help. But, Laika’s problems are much deeper than finding her next meal, and helping her may be more than Graham can handle. As Laika’s tenuous grasp on reality begins to loosen, and the voices in her head urge her toward destruction, Graham must convince her that what she thinks is real is merely an illusion before time runs out.
"In this brilliantly conceived and executed novel, Kort takes her readers into a distorted world where fear and paranoia overwhelm reality. With compassion, honesty, and startling clarity, she convincingly portrays a terrifying affliction and reminds us that human beings dwell behind numbers and statistics and they deserve to have their stories heard."
—Cynthia A. Graham, author of Beulah's House of Prayer, Beneath Still Waters, and Behind Every Door
“In Laika, Kate Kort explores the title character’s world with heartbreaking clarity. The novel’s electric prose and beautifully rendered characters thrum with delicate fear and sadness as readers bear witness to Laika’s growing mental illness. Along the way, Kort doesn’t pull any punches, and that’s precisely why the novel is so powerful. By faithfully representing Laika’s illness—by making it real on the page—Kort has crafted an important and sagely empathetic examination of mental illness’ all too real human cost. At turns gritty and tender, Laika is a powerful and necessary novel.”
—James Brubaker, author of Liner Notes and Pilot Season