Chasing Lilacs: A Novel
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Chasing Lilacs: A Novel

4.7 14
by Carla Stewart
     
 

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It is the summer of 1958, and life in the small Texas community of Graham Camp should be simple and carefree. But not for twelve-year-old Sammie Tucker. Sammie has plenty of questions about her mother's "nerve" problems. About shock treatments. About whether her mother loves her.
When her mother commits suicide and a not-so-favorite aunt arrives, Sammie has to

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Overview

It is the summer of 1958, and life in the small Texas community of Graham Camp should be simple and carefree. But not for twelve-year-old Sammie Tucker. Sammie has plenty of questions about her mother's "nerve" problems. About shock treatments. About whether her mother loves her.
When her mother commits suicide and a not-so-favorite aunt arrives, Sammie has to choose who to trust with her deepest fears: Her best friend who has an opinion about everything, the mysterious kid from California whose own troubles plague him, or her round-faced neighbor with gentle advice and strong shoulders to cry on. Then there's the elderly widower who seems nice but has his own dark past.
Trusting is one thing, but accepting the truth may be the hardest thing Sammie has ever done.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stewart’s fiction debut is a classic coming-of-age story set in tiny Graham Camp, Tex., in 1958. Sammie Tucker, soon to be 13, has a mother with “nerve problems,” a desire for a typewriter since she wants to be a writer, and a sort-of boyfriend in Cly, an Elvis Presley-like teen just arrived from California with a stuffed bag of family issues. Subplots involving all the minor characters that revolve around the central constellation of Sammie and her family as Sammie’s life is upended by a tragedy pack a bit too much complexity . Stewart writes about powerful and basic emotions with a restraint that suggests depth and authenticity; the relationship between Sammie and her mother Rita, the engine that drives the plot, is beautifully and delicately rendered. . Coming-of-age stories are a fiction staple, but well-done ones much rarer. This emotionally acute novel is one of the rare ones. (June)
Romantic Times
"This first-person narrative contains resolute characters and vivid descriptions of a small Texas community in the 1950's. If her debut is any indication, Stewart has a promising future."
Patti Lacy
"Prepare to laugh, cry, and pray as you inhale each poignant word of this stunning debut novel. Simply unforgettable!"
author of Daisy Chain and A Slow Burn Mary E. DeMuth
"CHASING LILACS is the kind of coming of age story that sticks to you beyond the last page. Unforgettable characters, surprising plot twists, and a setting so southern you'll fall in love with Texas. Carla Stewart is a new talent to watch!"
Janelle Mowery
"Carla Stewart writes a tender story with such emotional impact, you will hope, fear, cry, and rejoice with her characters. Readers will find themselves cheering Sammie on through her ordeals as she seeks love and forgiveness."
Jodi Thomas
"Stewart's book CHASING LILACS was a delightful read . . . It'll warm your heart."
From the Publisher
"Stewart writes about powerful and basic emotions with a restraint that suggests depth and authenticity; the relationship between Sammie and her mother Rita, the engine that drives the plot, is beautifully and delicately rendered. Coming-of-age stories are a fiction staple, but well-done ones much rarer. This emotionally acute novel is one of the rare ones."—Publishers Weekly"

This first-person narrative contains resolute characters and vivid descriptions of a small Texas community in the 1950's. If her debut is any indication, Stewart has a promising future."—Romantic Times"

Prepare to laugh, cry, and pray as you inhale each poignant word of this stunning debut novel. Simply unforgettable!"—Patti Lacy, author of An Irishwoman's Tale, 2008 Forward Magazine Book of the Year Finalist, and What the Bayou Saw"

CHASING LILACS is the kind of coming of age story that sticks to you beyond the last page. Unforgettable characters, surprising plot twists, and a setting so southern you'll fall in love with Texas. Carla Stewart is a new talent to watch!"—Mary E. DeMuth, author of Daisy Chain and A Slow Burn"

Carla Stewart writes a tender story with such emotional impact, you will hope, fear, cry, and rejoice with her characters. Readers will find themselves cheering Sammie on through her ordeals as she seeks love and forgiveness."—Janelle Mowery, author of Love Finds You in Silver City, Idaho"

Stewart's book CHASING LILACS was a delightful read . . . It'll warm your heart."—Jodi Thomas

Library Journal
In a small Texas town in the late 1950s, Sammie Tucker's mother, who suffers from depression, commits suicide. Following her mother's death, Sammie is left wondering whom can she count on now. VERDICT This nostalgic debut is perfect for readers who enjoy Christian coming-of-age stories.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780446556552
Publisher:
FaithWords
Publication date:
06/17/2010
Pages:
291
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chasing Lilacs

A Novel
By Stewart, Carla

FaithWords

Copyright © 2010 Stewart, Carla
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780446556552

[ ONE ]

THAT JUNE, RIGHT AFTER I finished sixth grade, Norm MacLemore’s nephew came to Texas for a visit. Benny Ray Johnson brought home a new Edsel. And Mama tried to take her life for the first time.

We lived at Graham Camp then—a petroleum plant with company housing. A spot in the Panhandle of Texas where the blue of the sky hurt your eyes and the wind bent the prairie grass into an endless silk carpet as far as you could see in every direction. God’s country, some people called it. While it may be true that God created that corner of the world, it crossed my young mind that he must have been looking the other way when it came to Mama. Why else would Mama’s spells, as Daddy called them, drive her deeper into her quilts? Lights out. Shades drawn.

Her spell that June had gone on longer than most, and she seemed to be slipping farther away. I hoped my being out of school might snap her out of it, and I had no trouble inventing excuses to linger in the house and be of some use to Mama. Mostly, she let me fetch her things. An ice bag for her headache. Another one of those pills from the brown bottle.

I tiptoed in and out with her requests and studied her for signs of improvement. With every smile or pat on my hand, my insides lurched. Maybe today she’ll suggest we bake a cake. Or take a walk down to Willy Bailey’s store. I would have settled for just having her sit with me on the couch and watch television.

Please don’t get me wrong. Mama was the primary thing on my mind, but a few days into the summer, I began to get restless. Itchy. As I scribbled ideas for the newspaper my best friend, Tuwana Johnson, and I planned to write, my mind drifted, wondering what the next three months would hold. When the floorboards creaked beside me, I looked up, startled to see Mama shuffling into the front room. A little flutter came into my chest. Mama’s robe hung limp on her thin frame, the belt trailing behind.

My gaze traveled to her face, searching for signs that the fog had lifted. One look at her eyes and I knew nothing had changed. Flat. Muddy. Looking at me, but not really seeing me.

“Hi, Mama. You want to watch Queen for a Day?” I kept my voice light, airy, and made room for her on the couch beside me.

She flopped down. “Not those wretched stories. It would give me a headache all over again. No television.”

“You’re feeling better, then? No headache?”

She fiddled with the button on the cushion. “Not exactly.”

Her answer could have gone either way. Not exactly better. Or not exactly a headache. A huge silence hung between us.

Before I could think of something else to say, the back door slammed and Daddy came in. Even without seeing him, I knew the routine. Hard hat on the hook by the back door. The plunk of the metal lunch box on the kitchen counter. Then Daddy clomped through in his steel-toed boots and appeared in the kitchen doorway.

“Hey, Rita. Good to see you up.” He leaned over and brushed his lips across Mama’s cheek.

She dipped her head away and pushed herself up from the couch, whisked around the end, and pattered to the bathroom. Not a single word.

When Daddy winked at me, I couldn’t tell if he was trying to cheer me up or cover the disappointing welcome from Mama.

Mama came from the bathroom and stood, feet apart, robe gaping over the same nightgown she’d worn all week. Her fingers curled, white-knuckled, around the brown pill bottle.

“I’m out of pills.” She held out the bottle.

“You know, sugar, I could take tomorrow off. Take you into Mandeville and see Doc.” He put his arm around her slumping shoulders, but she shrugged him off.

“I don’t need to see Doc. I need my pills.”

“Seems to me they ain’t doing much good. Maybe Doc could give you a different brand or something….”

She shoved the bottle into Daddy’s calloused hand. “And what am I supposed to do until tomorrow?” Her eyes darted around, jerky little movements. “Please. Take Sammie with you. Just get them.”

She backed up the few paces to her room, then turned and shut the door.

Daddy thumped me on the arm. “You up for a root-beer float?”

In other words, we were going into town to get Mama’s pills and could stop at the Dairy Cream on the way home.

He didn’t say anything the whole twelve miles, just tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, his eyes aimed straight ahead. I counted rusty brown cows with white faces and wished Mama had some physical thing wrong, like a broken leg or appendicitis, so we could say, “Just two more weeks and she’ll be good as new.” But deep down I knew it was something else. I just didn’t know what.

In the waiting room, I thumbed through a dog-eared Highlights magazine while Daddy went into Doc’s office. When they came out, Daddy put the refilled bottle in his shirt pocket, and Doc handed me a peppermint stick. “Take good care of your mother, Sammie.”

I should have taken Doc’s advice.

But the next morning, Daddy told me Mama needed to rest. “Go on and have some fun.”

Sunshine peeked through the window above the kitchen sink. It didn’t really take any convincing on Daddy’s part. I slipped on my Keds and took off. Sweet, dewy grass and a drift of rose scent gave me a heady feeling as I walked the two streets over to Tuwana’s. When she opened the door, the smell of peanut butter cookies floated out. Delicate, sugary sensations tickled my nose. Tuwana flounced into the kitchen and snitched us each a cookie. I took tiny bites and let each morsel melt in my mouth.

I thanked Mrs. Johnson and licked my lips around a stray crumb. She smiled through pink lipstick and told me it was nothing, that she was glad to see me. Wiping her hands on a starched, dotted-Swiss apron, she turned back to the cookies.

Tara and Tommie Sue, Tuwana’s little sisters, giggled above the blare of the television. Through the organdy curtains that billowed out from the window breeze, the sun scattered dust motes. I just stood there, soaking up the clatter, until Tuwana dragged me out onto the front porch. We painted our fingernails, then our toenails, and between it all, talked about a lot of nothing.

When the noon whistle shrilled through every inch of Graham Camp, it surprised me that the whole morning had flown by. Not once had I thought about Mama.

Running into the wind, my hair streamed behind me as I cut through the Barneses’ backyard, darted past a row of tin garages, and zipped into the house. I took a second to catch my breath and listen for Mama, but the hum of the Frigidaire was all I heard. I went to the bathroom, flushed, and reached for the faucet to wash my hands. That’s when I noticed the brown pill bottle on the back of the toilet.

The lid lay off to the side. I picked it up to screw it back on, thinking Mama had been careless when she took her last dose. The bottle was empty. I scanned the bathroom. No other bottles. No other pills laying around.

A tingle zipped up my spine. I raced into Mama’s room, shadowy and stale, and squinted to make out her body curled under her quilt—asleep, it looked like. I touched her lightly on the shoulder.

“Mama, wake up. It’s time for lunch.”

She didn’t move.

I gave her a little shake, not wanting her to yell at me if she had another headache.

Nothing.

A knot formed in my throat. Her mouth sagged toward the pillow, her face ghostly white. I moved the quilt and lifted her hand, but it flopped back against the sheet. Check her pulse.

I looked around, wondering if someone had said the words or if I had just thought them. Check her pulse. How? What did Miss Good from health class teach us? Which side of the wrist? Thumb on the inside of the wrist. No, maybe it was the index finger. Think. Think. Think.

Forget the pulse. Check her breathing. I leaned down close, hoping to hear some air coming from Mama’s mouth. My own heart banged against my chest, filling my ears with its thump, thump, and I knew it was useless. Even if Mama were breathing, I would never hear it.

I flew out the back door, ducked under the clothesline, and tore through Goldie Kuykendall’s yard. Not even bothering to knock, I ran in and yelled, “Goldie! Help!”

Goldie listened to my blubbering and picked up the telephone. “We’ve got an emergency over at the Tuckers’. Get Joe straightaway…. Tell him his wife swallowed a bottle of pills.”

She hung up and made another phone call. Then another. A ticking clock in my head screamed “Hurry!” but the next thing I knew, Goldie grabbed my hand and rushed us across our backyards to my house.

Already, like some strange magic, neighbors appeared, whispering, asking what had happened. I broke loose from Goldie’s grip, and as I raced up the steps to the front door, I heard Daddy’s Chevy screech to a halt. Red-faced from working in the boiler room at the plant, he stormed past me. Goldie took my hand and whispered, “Wait.” In no time, the screen door swung open, nearly knocking me down. Daddy stepped out carrying Mama. He put her in the car and ducked into the backseat beside her. Brother Henry from the Hilltop Church got behind the wheel and roared off.

A sweaty, sick feeling came over me, and the faces of those gathered on our lawn blurred. My thoughts jumbled as I caught the words crying shame, poor Sammie, mercy sakes. I waited for someone to say that Mama was alive, that everything would be all right, but no one did. Then a horrible thought crept in. Doc told me to take care of Mama. Why, oh why, hadn’t I done what he said? I tried to swallow, but my throat had shut itself off, and I knew why.

It was all my fault.



Continues...

Excerpted from Chasing Lilacs by Stewart, Carla Copyright © 2010 by Stewart, Carla. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Jodi Thomas
Stewart's book CHASING LILACS was a delightful read . . . It'll warm your heart.

Meet the Author

Carla Stewart's writing reflects her passion for times gone by, cherished relationships, and the mysteries of God in our skid-marked world. She and her husband have four adult sons and delight in the adventures of their six grandchildren.

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