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Across the Green Grass Fields

the book Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire on the ground in the grass

Regan, Heather and Laurel have been best friends since kindergarten, but one day, in first grade, Heather found a garter snake and brought it to school. Laurel screeched that girls don't play with snakes and dragged Regan away. Regan wanted to touch the snake until she saw Laurel’s visible disgust, and after that, they (and by “they,” we mean Laurel) decided not to play with Heather anymore. Luckily Regan loves horses, which is an acceptable animal for girls to like. Some time passes and Heather's mom eventually speaks to Regan's parents about how she is bullying Heather. Regan says that if she can only have one best friend, she chooses Laurel for some ungodly reason and her parents don't really side with her, but maintain that they can't force their girls to play with each other even though Laurel, and by association Regan, are clearly being shitty. 

Years pass and Regan and Laurel are still besties even though Laurel is somehow constantly worse, though Regan begins to worry that she and their other girlfriends will change their minds about horses being pretty and will decide that Regan is gross for liking them. They are already treating Regan differently because she doesn't have boobs and bras yet, but that's not her fault! Regan finally breaks down one day and asks her mom if something is wrong with her and, while no, absolutely nothing is and she's perfectly healthy, there is something different about her, but learning what will have to wait until after dinner. 

Regan and her parents enjoy a delicious dinner featuring baked chicken, green peas and cauliflower and afterward they retreat to the living room for a more civilized conversation in which Regan is informed that she is intersex. There is absolutely nothing wrong with her but her parents tell her she might need help later with hormones from her doctor in order to go through puberty and that they were planning on doing that when she was sixteen if it was something she wanted. That's the most important thing, that she wants to change things, because again, she's perfectly perfect just the way she is. Regan doesn't see it that way because all her friends will think she's weird and will leave her behind, now those don't sound like real friends now, do they? Regan goes to her room and does Internet research for the rest of the night.

The next day, Regan does something that changes her life. She decides to tell Laurel about being intersex and Laurel responds just how we all knew she would, by freaking out and telling Regan she's a gross boy and not a girl at all. Regan rushes out of the school and down to a stream that she can follow all the way back to her house, but instead of finding her way home, she finds a doorway with the words Be Sure twisted into the trees. Regan is sure she doesn't want to go back to school and face Laurel and everyone else who she's sure know that she's different by now and she is also sure that she doesn't want to have to go home and tell her parents that she didn't want to go back to school anymore, so she goes through the door.

Stepping through the doorway, Regan finds she's still by a stream, but everything else is different, especially the unicorn she's just encountered. A real life unicorn! While she stares wonderingly at it, a voice booms from behind her and that voice belongs to a centaur! This must be some sort of horse-themed afterlife! No, it's not. The centaur, Pansy, tells Regan she's in the Hooflands. Whenever a human enters the Hooflands, it means something is about to happen and so she must go see the Queen, but first, Pansy needs to take Regan to meet the others, and she needs to take the unicorn back to the rest of the herd. 

There's a whole herd of unicorns and nine centaurs to watch over them. Pansy takes Regan inside a long room kind of like a giant stable where she sees the centaurs, who are all female, and one who is probably the same age she is. Chicory is the young centaur and she and Regan sneak off to chat while the grown-ups discuss grown-up things. Regan tries to explain about coming through the door and being afraid to go through any others lest she have to go back home and face her parents who will be mad that she hasn't come home yet and Laurel who has surely told everyone how weird she is by now. Chicory assures Regan that she won't have to go see Laurel but she will have to go through some doors because being inside all the time will be way too boring. The girls laugh and become fast friends.

Time passes and Regan begins to fit in with the centaurs. There is a rule in the Hooflands that any humans who arrive must go see the king or queen, but the rule doesn't say when, so Regan prefers to stay with her new centaur herd for the time being. A season passes and she helps the healer, a centaur called Daisy, when the unicorns start having unicorn babies. Daisy offers to take Regan on as an apprentice and Regan might just do it, at least until she has to go see the Queen or a doorway catches her. Daisy and some of the other centaur ladies begin to talk about going to the Fair at the new year where they'll meet up with their husbands or go courting so they can add to their herd. 

Soon enough, the new year has come and it's time for the Fair. Regan thinks about the time that's passed and how her parents probably think she's a runaway. She also thinks about how she will be nicer to Heather if she ever gets to see her again because her world is so different now, and much bigger. It takes a long time to travel to the Fair and Regan spends it riding Chicory and talking about random things like Christmas and husbands, both the human kind and the centaur kind, until they finally arrive. Regan is amazed at all the hooved people she sees… satyrs, fauns, minotaurs, silenes and more. Pansy gives them bags of money and strict instructions to run if anyone comes for Regan and to not start anything they can't finish. 

The friends separate from the herd and from each other when they get to the food court. Regan wants roast nuts and a fish pie and Chicory wants baked apples, so they plan to grab their lunches and meet back up shortly. The faun selling nuts is startled to see Regan when she stops at her tent, but the silene is flabbergasted when she comes to buy a fish pie. He refuses to take money from Regan and says that people will buy so many of his pies when they see a human eating them. Regan doesn't get to eat her pie though, because a bag is thrown over her head and she is knocked out. 

Regan comes to and hears voices, one of which is the faun who sold her the nuts. She must've signaled to the others to capture her after she left her stall. The voices mention taking Regan to the Queen but she doesn't want to go, so she struggles against the twine binding her wrists and ankles. The faun comes in, pretending to be nice, and tells Regan that it is her destiny to go to the Queen who will coddle her and care for her much better than the beastly centaurs. Regan has been cared for and loved by the centaurs who aren't beasts at all, but the racist faun disagrees. A minotaur comes to check on Regan and threatens to give her to the Queen as a corpse, reasoning that they'll get just as much money, maybe even more money, for Regan if she were dead because bad things happen when humans come to the Hooflands. The kidnappers leave Regan alone then to make plans to head to the castle.

Regan doesn't believe in destiny and has no desire to meet the Queen, so she struggles and finally frees her ankles from their ropes. She finds a door and runs as fast as a centaur from the barn where she was held captive. The faun almost catches up, but Regan is able to escape. She nears a stream and thinks that finding a kelpie and being eaten by it can't be worse than being kidnapped and taken to the Queen, so she takes her chances. Luckily, Pansy finds her instead. They race back to the herd and Regan tells them that her kidnappers were told to capture her by Queen Kagami. 

The centaurs are shocked that their Queen, who has always kept everyone safe, would do such a thing, but then they begin to question if she really has kept them all safe if prices for their work and wares were dropping while prices for food and supplies kept going up. They decide that they believe Regan and will do whatever they can to keep her safe, and that means running away. The herd travels north, far away from the Queen’s Castle, to the forest where they make a new place for themselves in short order. Regan decides this is her home and she never wants to leave it again.

Five years pass. There are new babies that have been born and grown and Regan and Chicory have grown as well, but not in the same way. Chicory has to wear a new vest to keep her bosoms in check and Regan has grown too tall for her pants and now must wear a tunic because no one knows how to make pants. Now that Regan is tall, tall enough to be an adult, the rest of the herd has decided it's time for her to go and be the hero she was meant to be. Oh also, the Queen has found out that she's still alive and is burning fields and raising prices, so she definitely needs to be heroed. Chicory worries, and so does Regan, that once Regan has done whatever heroic thing she's meant to do, she will disappear. The adults worry too that she will disappear, into the ground, but they all make plans for her to do what needs to be done. Regan promises Chicory that she'll come back.

Regan sets off down a path and meets a kelpie. Regan has been told that kelpies just eat people but that's not true. Hoofed racism is at it again! Kelpies are not civilized in the way that centaurs are but they're civilized in their own way, and they're not stupid. This one, Gristle, offers to help Regan get to the Queen to be the hero, and only then will he eat her. They become friends, in a way, and he offers to let her ride so they can get to the castle quicker (also so he can eat her quicker, obviously). They encounter other kelpies along the way and Regan talks to them, not realizing that she could've been talking to them the entire time because they are also people who understand. Gristle moves in to protect Regan, but she assures him that no one is eating her before she becomes the hero. She climbs up in a tree to get some sleep before they continue their journey. 

Regan wakes to a peryton scrounging around her and is startled, but the peryton is startled too. She says her name is Zephyr and that she's going to go with Regan and Gristle to the castle because a peryton has never been a hero before. Regan is again shocked that Zephyr, a peryton, a weird skinless deerbird, can talk and wants to help, but again, Hoofed Racism is rearing its ugly head. The three set off toward the castle, discussing kings and queens and stories that are different to what the centaurs have always told her, and when they finally make it, Regan continues alone. She wonders why the centaurs would’ve told her lies about the Queen, but realizes that maybe everyone's stories are different. She sneaks into the castle and up a long flight of stairs. A voice calls out to her, but it's not a Queen. It's an old, old human man.

The old, old human man was the Queen as far as anyone in the Hooflands knew, for they never saw him, nor did they see the human woman who was in his place before him. When he came through his door, he was eager to go back to his life there, so he came to the castle immediately. The human who was there ruling asked for him to kill her and continue on, but in secret, and so he did. It was Kagami who found him and brought him to the castle and he killed her to keep the secret and he's been here, waiting first for his door and then for Regan. Now she's here and she has to kill him and take his place behind the curtain. She refuses to kill him, but he's old and sick anyway, so he'll die soon enough. Regan goes back down the stairs and finds the silene, minotaur and faun, the Queen's servants, who kidnapped her all those years ago, holding Gristle hostage.

Regan tells them that Queen Kagami is dead, which is true, more or less, and the servants seem relieved. They didn't want to do all the things the Queen had asked them to do. Regan asks them to let Gristle go and he comes over to her, excited to eat a human now that her heroic task is complete, and she tells him to go upstairs because he might find something interesting up there. Regan leaves the castle, hoping that the people in the Hooflands will figure out what to do when they discover they've been ruled by a human for so long. Maybe they'll elect someone properly, or just decide to govern themselves in another way. Regan leaves the castle, but she doesn't notice the words Be Sure etched on the door as she walks through. She falls back into her home world, even though it's not her home anymore, and walks to the house where she grew up and goes inside.

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