***Finalist: Reader Views Literary Award***
***9/10: Publisher's Weekly Booklife Prize***
A psychological suspense novel in the tradition of The Last Lie, The Break Down and The Girl on The Train, AWAKENING is a mixed media conspiracy thriller you won't be able to put down.
Is it possible that the entirety of one's life has been steered by the hand of fate towards a single moment? For Brooklyn French program teacher - and single parent of two- Tess Shapiro, it would certainly seem so. After discovering that her life and her marriage were artificial constructs based on lies and deceit, Tess must undergo the ultimate reality check. She delves deep into her subconscious, venting her frustrations by indulging in a lifelong habit of drawing graphic novels starring her glamorous alter ego, an international spy by the name of Andrea Chambers. Meanwhile, in the real world, anti-French terrorism is taking the world by storm. What, and who, is behind the vile attacks against French-speaking people everywhere from Brooklyn to Burundi? As she suspects that her new lover may not be who she thought he was, Tess's ability to perceive truth through a distorted collage of deception, brings comic book fantasy and real world tragedy crashing together in a whirlwind of romance and political intrigue. When, in a single moment, Tess realizes the totality of the lie she has been fed and believed, and the impossibility of the truth, she makes a staunch decision that will change her life, and how she perceives the world, forever.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.48(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Tess Shapiro sat with her back to the arm of the wheat-colored sectional and stared pensively into the predawn blackness pressing up against the grubby windowpanes. The early morning, kid-free ritual of having her coffee in solitude was an imperative, and Tess purposefully ignored the detritus from her children that surrounded her: gem-colored magnetic blocks scattered on the brown patterned rug, book bags lying next to unpacked homework, and picture books spilled across the sofa and carpet. Behind her was a conduit of collaged brown butcher paper lining the path between the living and dining areas. It was covered in markers - both capped and uncapped - and still seeping bottles of liquid glue.
Though Tess was not a neat freak by nature, this amount of chaos was a bit much even for her, and it was only through clichéd mantras and focused determination that she had learned not to care.
She huffed, and a wisp of dark-blond hair rose off her forehead. Even in the shadowed dimness of early morning, it was possible to see summer's official conclusion, and the depletion of giddy happiness that had bathed Brooklyn with its optimistic light and happy adventures for two glorious, work-free months. With the start of the school year, and the return to the daily stress of teaching and full-frontal parenting, summer already seemed like a half-forgotten dream.
Still, Tess pressured herself to welcome autumn's crispness. She reminded herself how it invigorated her, and filled her with romantic feelings, even though it did carry with it the haunting specter of winter. And winter in New York was, for Tess, as dark and shadowy as the wan sheen of light into which she now peered.
Of course this winter, she reminded herself, would be her first as a single parent. The divorce had been finalized. The papers had arrived by courier and been delivered into her hands by an oblivious doorman as she entered the building with her children, just a few weeks after the start of the school year. There it was, the last ten years of her life compressed into a thick manila folder that might as well have been stamped "FAIL" in red caps and addressed to someone named "Seriously Stupid and Naive."
Tess shuddered and tried hard not to think of the past year. What had Patrick - lying, cheating Patrick - said as he left? "When I think about the past ten years, I just feel sad."
She should have kept her mouth shut. That's what all her blog reading of stories told by other wives in her situation had taught her: "Do not engage the sociopath. You will not win."
She had hammered the truth of those words into her brain. So why-oh-why had she cried plaintively after him, "What the hell did I ever do to you?"
Dumbass. Sincerely stupid and naïve DUMBASS! Tess pressed her lips together so hard her head shook. He had gotten off on that, she knew - gotten off on upsetting her. And she had let it happen.
She swallowed another gulp of coffee and shuddered, willing the memory away. But it was no use. The repressed anger always had to work itself out of her system in the same way. Within moments, she found herself seated at her bedroom desk, the black-domed study light casting a yellow circle on the white-painted wood surface, into which she brought a sheaf of blank paper and a newly sharpened pencil. She peered at the paper for a few moments. What had Fowler said? "Until your forehead bleeds." Tess always remembered that quote, but it didn't apply to her. Her stories came from a place of deep self-knowledge - a repressed place. All she had to do was relax, and the words and images belonging to a lifetime of graphic-novel adventures starring Andrea Chambers - the glorious, courageous, and quick-moving international spy who was Tess, but not Tess - took center stage. The pencil began to fly over the page.CHAPTER 2
The emotional exertion of creating, combined with the only partially consumed coffee left behind in the living room, had caused Tess to drift off. Now she felt someone's hand on her head, and she shrieked and jerked it and her body upwards.
Rosie jumped back, startled, holding her hand as if stung. Tess gasped, wide eyed, and peered searchingly in the direction of the alarm clock.
"Jesus, it's 7:20!"
Rosie looked contrite. "I know. I came to get you. Sammy is making breakfast."
"It's okay, I told him not to stick his hand in the toaster oven again."
Rosie looked down and reached for one of the pages on Tess's desk.
"Mommy, what is this?"
Tess inhaled sharply and pushed the papers into her desk drawer before leaping to her feet and bustling towards the kitchen, Rosie quick on her heels. A gray morning light paled outside the windows, but either Sammy or Rosie - she guessed Sammy - had turned on each and every light. The smell of burnt toast pricked her nostrils and seemed ominously close to the "smoke-detector-about-to-go-off" end of the spectrum.
In the kitchen alcove, just off the dining area, Sammy stood on a small white Ikea stool in front of the black granite countertop, sloshing milk over the sides of a cereal bowl as the toaster pinged. An impressive pile of already incinerated bread sat on the cutting board in front of it. Tess clutched her hair and forced herself to speak calmly.
"Sammy, sweetheart, Mommy made a big boo-boo. I didn't wake up on time, and now we have to really hurry up or you'll be late for school, and I'll be late for work."
He looked at her suspiciously, and she took a deep breath before continuing.
"Listen, just for today, I need both you guys to eat school breakfast and lunch, okay? And not to argue with me while getting ready."
"Hmm, that's too bad. Because I was thinking that after I pick you up, I could make it up to you by taking you to Dunkin' Donuts."
She could see his resolve weakening as he pursed his lips and looked at her sideways.
She added, "And getting an ice-cream cone." "Okay."
"Yay!" Rosie bounded into her room. "I'm going to be ready first!"
"No, you're not!" Sammy stormed to his room and banged the door shut.
Tess felt a rush of relief and called after them, "Let's make it a race. Winner gets two scoops of ice cream!"
Mentally she added, and I get the Mother of the Year award!
* * *
Tess urged her children to walk faster as they trudged, oblivious to her anxiety, up Smith Street and past the vacant lot bordering the notoriously polluted Gowanus Canal, and around the cement factories that were just activating their grinding and humming mechanisms. The walk finally ended at the steps leading up to the blue-painted metal door of the school cafeteria at PS 30. Here, Tess bid her children a hurried goodbye, kissing them hard on each of their cheeks.
"I love you!" she called, as they scrambled up the steps.
"Love you more!"
Rosie paused halfway up the steps to blow her a final kiss before turning to run up the rest of the stairs, her straight brown hair swinging against the back of her denim jacket as she went. Tess smiled and released a heavy sigh while watching them, the tension ebbing out of her. She glanced at her watch. By some miracle of time management she still had twenty minutes to go, and her own school was only a block and a half away. She made her way up President Street toward Carroll Park, keeping her strides quick and even, but letting herself relax both mentally and physically before facing the vigor of the day.
Landing a position as the fifth-grade General Studies teacher in the bilingual French program at PS 52 had been an amazing stroke of luck, she knew, and Tess didn't want to do anything to jeopardize her job. She knew she had only gotten it because she spoke French passably well, giving her an advantage over other, probably younger, candidates. But they would have had difficulty communicating with the children of recent immigrants and Tess could get by in this regard, thanks to the year she had spent at a Canadian junior college in Switzerland, the year after high school.
She took a deep, cleansing breath and felt uplifted by the explosion of beauty at this end of the neighborhood. The brown and gray Victorian stone homes were fronted by large, impressively cultivated gardens, which had led to the area being dubbed "Carroll Gardens." Tess savored the evergreen smell, which reminded her of her childhood home in Vancouver, Canada, although it was a shallow echo of the intense natural beauty she had been surrounded by in her youth.
But the architecture, she thought as she neared Smith Street - the whole hipster-affected, Victorian vibe of the neighborhood she now lived in - was far more reminiscent of Toronto, where she had gone to university and teachers' college.
A burst of wind lifted her hair and disturbed the trees. Thoughts of home, like the rushing leaves, swirled and hushed in her mind as she skirted the eastern edge of Carroll Park. The sidewalks were bustling with commuters heading toward the subway stairs with paper coffee cups in hand, and parents tugging their children to school. With her own school now visible, she quickened her steps, her black clogs scuffing rhythmically on the pavement. Unconsciously, she drew an index finger under each eye to collect any smear of black liner that might have pooled there from perspiring on her hurried walk.
She wasn't really sure why she bothered with makeup for a teaching job, except that her mother had always emphasized the importance of personal appearance. That and finding a sport that would prevent Tess from ever getting fat. After she had failed miserably at everything else, they had finally landed on figure skating, which Tess had at least enjoyed, and still did.
She reached the corner at the same time as a family with two children. Neither of them was in her class, but they smiled up at her, offering tiny waves of recognition. The white-capped crossing guard looked tense and distracted as she heralded them across, a departure from her usual, cheerful demeanor. Tess wondered if something had happened, but then, as she reached the other side of the street, she saw parents gathered like buzzing hummingbirds around a particularly succulent hydrangea in the center of the school yard.
Her heart picked up its pace as she lengthened her strides, bobbing her head as she walked in an effort to see inside the yard. On a spot of higher incline halfway up the sidewalk, Tess gripped the chain-link fence and raised herself on tiptoe, peering intently. Just then, a couple turned away, shaking their heads and speaking in loud, outraged voices.
"C'est pas possible!"
Thin and impeccably clad in skinny jeans and a black faux-fur vest, the woman stared pensively at the ground as she walked.
Her equally fashion-conscious husband kicked at a stone with a pointed leather toe.
"Qui pourrait faire une chose si terrible?" He said, shaking his head and putting his arm around his wife's shoulders.
Tess peered at the spot they had just vacated, desperate to see what "terrible thing" they were referring to. All the heat ran out of her as she saw the object of all the attention.
Someone had spray-painted a large white circle on the asphalt and written within was: GO HOME FRENCH PEOPLE!CHAPTER 3
The children sat in a large circle on the bright blue rug facing Tess and her partner, Alexia, who normally taught in the adjacent French-language room. The two classes - each a mixed group of French and English speakers - alternated classrooms every day, but now both teachers sat on low chairs next to the high windows overlooking the school yard, with everyone gathered together in the English room.
Bright sunlight shafted into Tess's eyes, and she scooted her chair a little to avoid it, taking refuge in one of the patches of shade made by the projects that were hung from yarn, draped in front of the windows.
Alexia was Canadian also, but French and from Montreal. Her disdain for Tess's lack of fluency was apparent now, as she arched her thin brows and pouted her full lips. In general, she acted as though Tess embodied every aspect of the French-English conflict in Canada, and it was her personal affliction to suffer being partnered with such a dreary encumbrance.
Apparently, it was Tess who needed to start the conversation with the children. She fiddled with the braided leather bracelet she wore and cleared her throat. Forty-six faces looked at her expectantly.
Must get this right, she thought. Although she knew that no matter what she said, it would be repeated at home, and some parent or another would take offense and either call the principal or write a nasty note. Despite years of teaching, she had never quite become accustomed to these surprise attacks, which always left her feeling like she had been sucker punched in the gut.
She took a deep breath and began. "Okay, so is there anyone in the class who did not see or hear about the not-nice message that was painted in our school yard this morning?"
A chorus of no's and non's rumbled through the assembly, and Tess nodded and assumed a grave expression.
"Well, I know it's very hard to understand how someone could do something like that, but you know when people do nasty things it's for ... why? Why do people act unkindly?"
A boy small boy named Michael, who made up for his lack of stature with a thick tangle of black hair, arched his back as he raised his hand.
"Because they're sad inside?" He offered.
Tess nodded. "Yes, people do unkind things sometimes, but we always need to keep in mind that if they were happy with life, and happy with themselves, they wouldn't try to make other people feel bad."
An angelically beautiful girl named Ashley, with cornflower-blue eyes and golden hair tied back in braids, raised her hand next.
"It's because they want other people to be unhappy like them, right? We need to try to be nice to them."
Tess nodded. She felt pleased and proud. Her kindness sermons during circle time had not fallen on deaf ears. Then she turned to Alexia.
"That's very wise, don't you agree, Mademoiselle Levesque?"
Alexia shrugged. "It is unfortunate sometimes French people elicit this feeling. People are jealous of us."
Tess gaped at her in horror. "I'm sure Mademoiselle Levesque doesn't mean ..."
But she could feel the circle ripple with disillusionment, like watching a docked rowboat begin to list as a storm approached. She opened her mouth but was interrupted by a light tapping at the door. All forty-eight heads swiveled in unison to see Principal White, an expectant smile on her face, accompanied by a small boy with an auburn ponytail and the most gorgeous man Tess had ever seen.
He was tall and sinewy in jeans and a dark brown leather jacket that hung from perfectly angled shoulders, and he also wore his hair in a ponytail, only his was steely gray. This did nothing to diminish the piercing luminosity of his blue-green eyes, which peered at her over high cheekbones, in a way that made Tess flush. It was with difficulty that she managed to arrange her features into a professional teacher's smile, and resisted the impulse to run a smoothing hand over her hair.
Principal White spoke. "Tess, Alexia, and children; this is Yves."
She indicated the little boy with upturned palms, her large white teeth bared in a smile to disguise what Tess intuited was stress from the morning's graffiti incident. Her normally perfect blond bob showed signs of disarray, and her pink neckerchief was twisted so that the knot had slid to the base of her throat.
The class chorused, "Hello, Yves," and Tess smiled at the boy, who was flushing with embarrassment. His eyes, carbon copies of his father's, were wide and staring. He wore navy-blue sweatpants, the cuffs of which were a bit too short, and revealed subtly mismatched white sweat socks. It drifted through Tess's mind that his father must have helped him pick out what to wear that morning. A mother would make sure that for the first day at a new school her son was well attired. Perhaps, she thought fleetingly, Yves's father was single.
Alexia spoke to Yves in French. "Venez et rejoignez le cercle Yves. Nous sommes heureux de vous accueillir."
His father smiled and gave Yves a gentle prod of encouragement. Yves walked with his head down - the tops of his ears pink - toward the circle of children on the rug, circumventing the clusters of desks with book bags hung across their chairs. The children stared in silence. Only the squeak of his blue Converse sneakers could be heard on the blond-tiled linoleum.
Later that day, Tess leaned over Yves's desk to help him understand the English directions in his math workbook. She couldn't help but be impressed by his obvious intelligence. Once he understood the directions, his pencil raced over the page, solving the decimal equations without once reaching for a piece of scratch paper from the center of the table.
Tess smiled and asked him in French, "Did your mother travel with you here to New York?"
Yves shook his head. "Elle est morte," he said simply.
The emotionless way in which he stated the fact of his mother's death made Tess's stomach spasm with a mixture of shock and projected fear.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Awakening"
Copyright © 2018 Jacqueline Goldman.
Excerpted by permission of Jackie Goldman.
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.
Table of Contents
- Brooklyn mother and teacher Tess Shapiro sits her living room contemplates the start of another school year. Reflecting on her recent divorce, she becomes angry at her cheating ex, Patrick.
- Tess indulges in a lifelong habit of penning graphic novels featuring her glamorous alter-ego, an international spy by the name of Andrea Chambers. Like many, this one springboards off her experience as a cadet in a basic training program for tourists in the Swiss army.
- Tess takes her children to their school and then continues to her own, a French school where she teaches fifth grade English. An anti-French graffiti message is spray painted on the schoolyard asphalt. While discussing the incident with her students, a new student appears with his handsome single father, Guy.
- Tess watches the news where she discovers that anti-French terrorism is occurring in countries around the world. She is reminded of 9/11 and pens another graphic comic linking the two events.
- The reader learns how Tess's comic book fantasies began. The reader learns how Tess became obsessed with spy comics.
- The glimmer of romance between Guy and Tess is kindled.
- Tess and friend Molly decide Tess should date Guy.
- Tess’s mother Rachel announces he is coming to visit.
- A late night text from Guy inviting Tess for dinner.
- Patrick reveals that he is dying from cancer.
- The children learn about their father's condition.
- Tess and Guy go out for dinner.
- Tess's mother Rachel arrives. Tess learns that her late father was gay. Tess spends the night at Guy's house where he shows her shocking new developments is software abilities. In the morning, they depart for the Berkshires.
- Tess and Guy go on an eerie hike. Tess admonishes herself for not being brave.
- Tess and Guy see television footage of another attack and hear how world leaders are aligning in response to the new international threat.
- Tess takes the children to visit their father in the hospital.
- Tess and Guy are smoking pot at Guy's house. When Tess arrives back home she finds out that Patrick, has been moved to palliative care.
- Another visit to the hospital and the children are dropped off at school. Afterwards, Tess sees that a French reporter named Crafen Roux has been assassinated by Anti-French terrorists in New York.
- Tess confronts Guy. Having realized that Crafen is an anagram for France, she asks him if Crafen is an actual name. He assures her that it is. The reader sees the first cracks in their romance.
- Guy he accuses Tess of still being in love with him. Upset, she returns home and pens a graphic comic about being in the Swiss army and being recruited to pull off a false flag to draw the French and Italian factions of Switzerland into war with Germany. Things are beginning to make sense.
- Patrick dies and Tess and the children attend his funeral.
- Back at work, Tess learns that the French embassy in Manhattan has been bombed.
- Tess realizes that Guy is a French agent sent to America to stage false flags to drag America into an international conflict. She confronts him and his true wicked nature is revealed.
- Tess learns Guy has returned to France to get married.
- Tess decides to move back to Toronto, Canada, with her mother.
- Tess realizes that for the rest of her life, she will be living a lie.