How All This Started: A Novel

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Set in the stark immensity of the West Texas landscape, How All This Started portrays with strength and subtlety the heart-wrenching struggles of a family dealing with manic depression, and the visceral bond between a brother and his sister.

Author Biography: Pete Fromm is the author most recently of Night Swimming, a critically acclaimed collection of short stories (1999). He won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Awards for How All This Started (2000), the story ...

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Overview

Set in the stark immensity of the West Texas landscape, How All This Started portrays with strength and subtlety the heart-wrenching struggles of a family dealing with manic depression, and the visceral bond between a brother and his sister.

Author Biography: Pete Fromm is the author most recently of Night Swimming, a critically acclaimed collection of short stories (1999). He won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Awards for How All This Started (2000), the story collection Dry Rain (1997), and the memoir Indian Creek Chronicles (1994). He has published over a hundred stories, earning numerous honors, including nominations for the Pushcart Prize. How All This Started is his first novel. He lives with his family in Great Falls, Montana.

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Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer
Raw and immediate. Abilene drives what becomes a suspenseful, heartbreaking, and ultimately redemptive adventure in growing up.
USA Today
[This book] is really about the mystery and terrible beauty of families and about learning what you don't know.
Salem Statesman Journal
Intense, moving...How All This Started is one of the best novels of the year.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The award-winning author of nonfiction (Indian Creek Chronicle, etc.) and several story collections (Dry Rain, etc.), Fromm delivers a quiet but gripping debut whose themes are family, baseball and two kinds of talent -- frustrated and flourishing. As the novel opens, 15-year-old Austin Scheer waits out the kind of wind storm that chills and carries rain to the west Texas desert where he and his family live. But this wind doesn't bring rain, it brings home Austin's wild older sister Abilene, who had disappeared for a week. Austin and Abilene, named for the cities where they were conceived, are uncommonly close and share the dream of becoming pitchers. For 20-year-old Abilene, that dream has already died: she's a girl and a difficult girl at that -- too quick, sassy and confident. Abilene isn't about to let her brother miss his chance, and once she recovers from her manic spree and the depression that follows, she spends her evenings training Austin. Though her devotion to her brother is extravagant, her training tactics are abusive, calling into question her real motive. It becomes increasingly clear that Abilene's mood swings are dangerous and that, under her influence, Austin may lose his chance for any career in baseball. Fromm has limited his range for this novel, inscribing only the siblings and their parents, Clay and Ruby, in a few Texas desert locales. He focuses instead on the nuances of Austin and Abilene's relationship, as well as the passion and poetry of pitching. Fromm's portrayal of the elder Scheers is especially satisfying. At first, they appear as sad as their children believe they are, hopeless people who spend their days retelling the story of "how all this started." As the novel progresses, the younger Scheers' understanding of their parents deepens, and the children seem truly to mature. Baseball lovers will want to read this book, but so will anyone who has loved a difficult sibling.
VOYA
Promising high school baseball player Austin Scheer is poised to be the next Nolan Ryan. His sister, Abilene, is determined to make it happen. At first, Austin believes that Abilene's dogged determination is in his best interest. He also believes that her violent mood swings, abusive behavior, and lengthy disappearances are just a phase. Austin's protectiveness of and blind loyalty to Abilene make it virtually impossible for him to accept the fact that she is a manic-depressive in desperate need of medication. Austin is just as much a captive of Abilene's mental illness as she is, musing "I suddenly wondered if this was what Abilene's world was like: her head filled with her very own stars; captivating at first, but finally terrifying when she realized that everything else that was light had gone dark." After a slow beginning, Fromm envelops readers in the story and takes them for a ride as they experience the ups and downs of the rapid cycle of Abilene's illness. An intense, at times painful but humorous read, the novel is satisfying and remarkable. This book will be a treat for baseball fans, but nonfans will enjoy the story equally as Austin figures out a way to live for himself and still love his sister. This appealing title is suited best for older teens, who should find it realistic and well written. It is a good choice for a high school or public library young adult collection. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P S A/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2000, Picador USA/St. Martin's, 305p, $23. Ages 15 to Adult. Reviewer: Nicole A. Cooke
Library Journal
Fromm's first novel is the story of a family on the verge of falling apart, held together by little more than baseball. Set in Texas, it focuses on Austin, a promising 15-year-old pitcher, and his older sister Abilene, a fireballing pitcher herself, whose earlier attempt to force her way onto the Pecos High School baseball team has left a lasting scar. His best friend as well as pitching coach, Austin idolizes his sister to such a degree that he's unable to see how her increasingly severe case of bipolar disorder is affecting their relationship and the family as a whole. Ever in denial, he attempts to shield her from the interventions of family and mental health professionals as she teeters toward a potentially violent breakdown. The tension and tenderness inherent in Austin and Abilene's relationship carry this emotionally rich and often emotionally wrenching tale. For most public libraries.--Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A wistful, moving first novel from the Montana storywriter (Dry Rain, 1997; Blood Knot, 1998, etc.) concentrates with sometimes riveting, sometimes labored intensity on the troubled loving relationship between a brother and sister growing up, and apart from their parents, in a West Texas backwater.
From the Publisher

“[How All This Started] is really about the mystery and terrible beauty of families and about learning what you don’t know.” —USA Today

“Raw and immediate. Abilene drives what becomes a suspenseful, heartbreaking, and ultimately redemptive adventure in growing up.” —Philadelphia Inquirer

“Pete Fromm’s first novel lays bare the raw nerve of love.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A wistful, moving first novel...a powerful and promising debut from a diligent writer" —Kirkus Reviews

How All This Started offers a vivid perspective from the pitcher’s mound, in this case, from the West Texas desert. A gutsy effort in the manner of McGuane and McMurtry, full of mesquite, cresote and one girl’s violent encounters with herself.” —Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780613451895
  • Publisher: San Val, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Edition description: 11200 San Val
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author


Pete Fromm is the author, most recently, of Night Swimming, a critically-acclaimed collection of short stories. He has published over one hundred stories, earning nominations for the Pushcart Prize, among other honors. He lives with his family in Great Falls, Montana.
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Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


Howling gusts ripped at the corners of our house, tearing at the roof, shaking the windows, and I lay open-eyed in the dark, listening. Blue northers Dad called these storms, and through the gravel BB-ing the house, the occasional scratchy thump of a creosote bush shot against the siding—the wind itself, moaning and keening—I strained to hear the first trace of Abilene's return. I'd even left my jeans on, so I wouldn't be naked when she came.

    She'd been gone over a week, without a word, Mom and Dad in a quiet panic, their voices trailing off whenever I appeared. But Abilene and I had never once missed a norther.

    When I was little, still wearing pajamas, before Abilene's disappearing this way was something anybody could ever have pictured, I'd sneak into her room as soon as the wind started. Wrapped under the same blankets, we'd giggle as the whole world got turned upside down by something as deadly normal as wind. There wasn't a thing out there to stop it, even slow it down, only, as far as any eye could see, the endless, level horizon of stubby, drought-brittled creosote and head-high mesquite. The wind would roar through that thin cover, tearing loose anything broken, dusting the skies for days. But we used to open all her windows, shivering against each other in the dark, feeling the strange, wet cold, the scorched smell of the desert turned pregnant, like no other time at all. Abilene said if Mom and Dad found us like that, we'd tell them the storm had woken me, had scared me. Burying our faces in her pillow, we laughed like crazy at the idea of us beingscared of anything. We laughed till our ribs ached, till we had to throw back the blankets for air. Then we lay still in the cold, holding on to each other for the warmth, and we listened to the wild wind, raging wherever it cared to go.

    But that'd been when we were just kids, and Abilene was too old now—I was too old now—to go tiptoeing into her room no matter how much I might have wanted to. Even if she had been home.

    Outside the wind kept up its battering, whistling through the loose shingles, but as I lay staring at the dark, it turned into as much a lullaby as anything, and instead of dashing from beneath the covers and opening the window, the way we used to, I ended up dozing off. It would've been too lonely anyway, having the desert all wet and cold in the room with just me.

    I woke to the window screeching back and forth, stubborn in its frame. I sat up smiling, picturing how excited Abilene would look, shooting her fists up first in one corner, then the other, zigzagging the window up, letting in the wind, maybe even jumping in with me like the old days.

    But the window, though half-open, was empty. A pale light flooded in with the cold, like maybe there was a fire somewhere out there. It was bright enough to look around, but the only person in my room was Nolan Ryan, my old poster ghostly in the outside light, his leg caught chin high, about to uncork his scorching fastball, the word Fireballer arcing over his head.

    Then, even louder than the wind, I caught the bleating rumble of Abilene's broken-muffler truck, smelled the creeping fog of blue exhaust. "Ab'lene?" I whispered.

    Something hit the bottom edge of the window then, from outside, shoving it up the rest of the way. A two-by-four or something. Some kind of big stick. It clattered in the yard, and before I could think, Abilene's hands shot up over the sill, her head poking into my room, her elbows clawing at the ledge, feet scrabbling against the siding.

    "Ab'lene?" I said again, louder, my smile growing.

    She hooked her waist over the sill and slithered inside.

    When Abilene leapt up, quick as a snake, the light outside left nothing but a long, lean, black shadow of her, wider through the shoulders than anywhere else. Not much different from Nolan Ryan, really, if Nolan Ryan had been a girl. A perfect one.

    "Hey, Ab'lene," I said, my smile huge. We'd used her window forever; our escape hatch, crawling onto the porch roof and dropping down between Mom's flowers. Abilene had even waxed the frame for silence. But there was no roof under my window. There was nothing out there at all. It was as if she'd been off somewhere learning to fly, and was just back now to share the secret.

    Abilene blew out a big breath, barely holding back her laughter. "Hey, Austin," she whispered. "You awake?"

    "No."

    A snort escaped. "Do you hear this wind!"

    "I've been waiting for you." I poked a leg from beneath the blankets, showing her my jeans.

    Abilene paused, then grabbed my leg, giving it a shake. "You were waiting!" She stooped and tossed my shirt to me. "Come on. We're burning daylight."

    "It's the middle of the night, Ab'lene," I said, drawing the shirt over my head, poking my arms through, hiding my scrawny self as quick as I could. I couldn't help a shiver at the cold touch of the cloth.

    "Night. Day. Same thing." She was looking around the floor. "Where's your jacket?"

    "Downstairs."

    Abilene shook her head. "Poor planning, Austin. What with a norther and all."

    "I wasn't sure you'd come."

    Abilene jerked to a standstill, her shape dark against the watery light of the window. "Of course you were."

    "I know," I said fast. "It's a good norther, isn't it?"

    "You got that?" she cried, smacking at my shoulder, her fist balled up tight. But then, serious, she asked, "You knew I couldn't stay away with that going on, didn't you?"

    "We didn't know where you were," I whispered. "We didn't have any idea."

    "Hell," Abilene said, laughing again. "Neither did I!"

    I stood up from the bed, but didn't move away from it.

    "But I came back for you," she answered. "Just like you knew I would. Now let's go."

    I eased toward the door, listening for any trace of Mom and Dad.

    Abilene tugged me around, pointing at the window.

     "But ..."

    "Follow me," she said, grinning.

    Darting feet first out the window, she clung to the sill like a spider. "Just kick off a little," she said, and that fast she was gone, smacking down in the bed of her truck, backed up tight to the house. "Presto!" she called.

    She clapped her hands, waiting for me. "Child's play!"

    I poked my head out instead of my feet.

    She clapped again, not so patiently. "Turn around. The other way."

    Afraid to tell her I'd meet her at the door, I wormed my legs out and dangled down the side of the house, the wind slapping at me just like everything else out there. Me in my T-shirt. I craned to see beneath me and Abilene said, "For crying out loud, Austin."

    Then, back in my room, I heard a tiny, soft tapping: the ratchety click of my doorknob. I pushed off the wall of our house and let go.

    Abilene caught me tight, keeping me from falling out of the truck. Her chest pushed up against my shoulder blades. I turned into her. "Mom and Dad are up," I whispered.

    Abilene sprang over the side of the truck, bouncing behind the wheel and calling, "Time to go!" The engine roared and I jumped too.

    The crushed white rock Dad kept raked smooth skittered out behind us, pinging in the wheel wells as Abilene scorched out of our driveway, blowing off into the desert, leaving our yard—the indistinguishable patch of nothing surrounding our house—far behind.

    I knelt up on the seat, looking back, seeing my room light up like a beacon, a shadow so thin and small in the window it could only have been Mom, watching after us. Billowing in the icy wind of the norther, the curtains blocked more light than she did. Dad, of course, would have been like an eclipse up there.

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Reading Group Guide

Abilene and Austin are siblings named for the Texas towns where they were conceived during their parents' footloose years. But their parents traded in those traveling days to raise their family, settling on an isolated patch of desert in the shadow of an abandoned World War II bomber base, a place so desolate that Abilene and Austin grow up relying on each other to escape.

To overcome the stark immensity of the West Texas landscape, Abilene pins her hopes on making Austin a pitching phenomenon -- a "fireballer" who will eclipse even the legendary Nolan Ryan. Abilene's seductive exuberance, however, soon takes on a darker cast. As she drives them beyond the edges of sanity, it becomes uncertain whether Abilene and Austin will survive her manic dreams.

Introducing one of the most memorable female characters in contemporary literature, How All This Started portrays with strength and subtlety the heart-wrenching struggles of a family dealing with manic depression, and the visceral bond between a brother and his sister.

Discussion Questions:
1. Why is baseball so important to Austin? To Abilene? How does its significance change for each of them with the worsening of Abilene's disease? What does the bomber base symbolize to them?

2. What does Nolan Ryan mean to Abilene? Why does Abilene want Austin to become the next Nolan Ryan so badly? How does this dream connect Austin and Abilene?

3. Austin's family seems very traditional from the outside: mother, father, sister, and brother. However, the relationships between the family members aren't very traditional. What is Austin's relationship with his parents? And how has Abilene affected that relationship?

4. Abilene shines brighter than anything else in Austin's life. Why? What place does she hold in his life?

5. How does Abilene's illness change the roles in her family? Does she become closer to her mother? Does Austin become closer to his father? Why?

6. At an appointment with Dr. Pape, Austin shouts "You need to leave her alone!" Why doesn't Austin want to believe that Abilene is bipolar? Why is it difficult for him to accept her illness?

7. Why do you think Abilene takes Austin hunting for swallows? How does this episode affect Austin's view of his sister?

8. Why does Abilene isolate herself from her brother when she is trying to cope with her disease? How does this affect Austin?

About the Author:
Pete Fromm is the author most recently of Night Swimming, a critically acclaimed collection of short stories (1999). He won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Awards for How All This Started (2000), the story collection Dry Rain (1997), and the memoir Indian Creek Chronicles (1994). He has published over a hundred stories, earning numerous honors, including nominations for the Pushcart Prize. How All This Started is his first novel. He lives with his family in Great Falls, Montana.

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