Breakaway: A Novel

Breakaway: A Novel

by Kat Spears


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When Jason Marshall's younger sister passes away, he knows he can count on his three best friends and soccer teammates—Mario, Jordie, and Chick—to be there for him. With a grief-crippled mother and a father who's not in the picture, he needs them more than ever. But when Mario starts hanging out with a rough group of friends and Jordie finally lands the girl of his dreams, Jason is left to fend for himself while maintaining a strained relationship with troubled and quiet Chick. Then Jason meets Raine, a girl he thinks is out of his league but who sees him for everything he wants to be, and he finds himself pulled between building a healthy and stable relationship with a girl he might be falling in love with, grieving for his sister, and trying to hold onto the friendships he has always relied on.

A witty and emotionally moving tale of friendship, first love, and loss, Breakaway is Kat Spears at her finest.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250065513
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 09/15/2015
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

KAT SPEARS has worked as a bartender, museum director, housekeeper, park ranger, business manager, and painter (not the artistic kind). She holds an M.A. in anthropology, which has helped to advance her bartending career. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her three freeloading kids. She is also the author of Sway.

Read an Excerpt


A Novel

By Kat Spears

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 Kat Spears
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7247-9


I sat on the stoop, a small concrete step outside the door to our apartment, hoping I could avoid going back inside until everyone was gone. We lived in what the rental office called a "garden apartment" because we had a door that opened directly to the outside instead of into the central stairwell, though there was nothing even remotely like a garden on the grounds of our apartment complex. The hard-packed earth and gravel yard sustained only a few scrubby patches of grass, and the trees were wilted and sad, their knobby roots exposed.

As I sat there Chick came walking up the slope from the parking lot, rubbing his nose on the sleeve of his jacket. He was wearing something that resembled a suit. A dark jacket that was two sizes too big for him, and a pair of gray slacks that were held up with a beat-up, brown leather belt. The knot of his tie was almost as big as his head.

"Hey, Jaz," he said as he approached me. "Sorry I couldn't make it to the funeral. Jordie and his mom couldn't pick me up and I didn't have another ride. You doing okay, buddy?" Chick was panting slightly and the small pink scars on his face stood out in stark relief to his chalky complexion.

"Nice suit," I said as I ran my finger under the collar of my shirt to relieve the pressure on my neck. "Did you beat up an old man on the street to steal that?"

"You're hilarious," Chick said with a tilt of his head. "And an asshole. But somehow, I still care whether or not you're doing okay."

No, I wasn't okay, but I didn't say that. Actually, at that moment I had been thinking about how much I was dying to get out of my tie, but figured I should keep it on until everyone was gone. "I'm doing all right," I said grudgingly. The way Chick's eyes were probing my face, I knew he wanted more of an answer, but he wasn't going to get it.

Chick's real name was Walter Fitzgerald Gunderson, but a really bad case of the chicken pox when he was a little kid had forever marked him for the nickname Chick. He was small and thin and took more sick days than any other kid in school. The scars on his face were a daily reminder of just what a sickly little kid he had been. At seventeen he still looked like he was twelve. I was the one who had started calling him Chick when he returned to third grade after a long absence for his illness. Maybe it had started out me calling him that because I was being a prick, but he had taken it as a show of friendship. I had made it to my senior year only because Chick did the homework I didn't have the patience to do myself, and I was the only thing that stood between him and the regular mistreatment he would have taken from bullies. Freshman year alone I got at-home suspension three times for fighting, just because I was sticking up for Chick.

"Is Mario here?" Chick asked as he peered through the window of the apartment.

"Yeah," I said. "Jordie too."

"Everything go okay at the funeral?"

I hesitated as I tried to think what I could tell him about the funeral. Nothing. There was nothing I could say, but I knew what everyone would be talking about at school. My little freak-out, which, I was trying to convince myself, maybe not everyone had noticed. Still, I didn't know how I was going to go to school on Monday, since it was all anyone would be talking about.

There had been plenty of people from school at the church for the funeral service, even a few teachers, but the sea of faces had been just a blur. The only faces there that meant anything to me were Jordie's and Mario's, the only people there who were real. Everyone else was just a confusion of insincere tears and empty condolences.

At the church, Mario and Jordie had both come to sit in the front pew, the space reserved for family, without being asked. They were the only family I had besides Mom and Aunt Gladys and Uncle Dan. At least, the only family that mattered.

I was supposed to have been a pallbearer, along with Aunt Gladys's husband, my uncle Dan, and the two men who were serving as ushers during the service. But when it came time and I sat there contemplating the white casket smothered in pink lilies sitting at the base of the altar, I felt a sick feeling rising in my gut. All I could think about was that only a few inches of lacquered wood separated me from Sylvia's body, and it creeped me out so much, I couldn't move, as if my feet were glued to the floor. There was no way I could put my hand on that coffin. No way I could lift it knowing the weight I carried was the dead body of my sister.

I had just stood there like an idiot for a minute, then turned and looked back at Mario as everyone in the church waited for me to join the other three men at the casket, their hands poised above the handles. Though it felt as if an eternity passed while Mario read my face, in reality it was only a few seconds. Mario stood and, without another glance at me, took my place at the fourth handle. I hung back near the altar while everyone else filed out of the church behind the casket.

"How was the service?" Chick asked, bringing me back to the present.

"I don't know. Okay, I guess," I said, wishing he would drop it. Chick had a terrible habit of talking about his feelings, and expecting other people to do the same. That, and his weak body, had permanently relegated him to the friend zone with girls.

"You know, I've never been to a funeral before," Chick said thoughtfully. "Least not one that I remember, since I was a baby and all when my mom died. But it's good for you, you know? Gives you a chance to be sad. You really need that."

"Mm," I murmured as that was all the encouragement Chick usually needed to keep talking.

Mario and Jordie came spilling out the door then, eager to get away from the crush of strangers. Mario had been tugging on his tie and the knot was twisted to one side, his shaggy black hair lapping over the collar of his shirt. He had forgone his usual fauxhawk, at his mom's insistence I was sure. She made him go to confession and Mass every week, though he always went to Saturday evening Mass so he didn't have to get up early on Sunday and spend half the day at church with his family. Over the years I had endured many sermons as I waited for Mario's release into the freedom of a Saturday night.

Mario's mom had come to the church but left before we went to the cemetery because she couldn't get the time off work to stay for the graveside service. She was a small woman who didn't speak very good English, though her chocolate brown eyes knew everything with a glance. She and Mario crossed themselves during the service since they were Catholic. Mario's mom usually attended Spanish Mass so I wasn't even sure she understood everything the priest said, but she knew instinctively when to stand, when to drop her head and pray, when to cross herself.

"Hey, Chick," Mario said. He worried the knot in his tie as he spoke. I had never seen Mario dressed in a suit, and the clothes looked almost as uncomfortable on him as he must have been in them.

Jordie wore a suit too, but with the comfort of long practice. His dad was a colonel in the army, and that was what we all called him, the Colonel. Even Jordie called him that. But Jordie's dad also came from money. Jordie's mom was Vietnamese, a fact he was always trying to forget, though she cooked the best Vietnamese food you'd ever taste. Her pho was legendary. Jordie was a strange blend of his parents — fair skinned with honey-brown hair, but with his mother's eyes.

"How you holding up, Jaz?" Mario asked.

I shrugged. "Okay, I guess."

"Jesus, so many people were at the funeral," Jordie said. "I couldn't believe it. You'd think Sylvia was Miley Cyrus."

"You keep mentioning Miley Cyrus, man," Mario said with an accusing glance at Jordie as he dug a crumpled cigarette out of his pocket and straightened it with care. "Why are you so into Miley Cyrus?"

"I'm not into Miley Cyrus," Jordie said, taking Mario's bait. I was immune to it. Mario could never suck me into a defensive conversation anymore. I knew him too well. But Jordie, even after knowing Mario and me for five years, almost a third of our lives at that point, was still an easy mark. "I'm just using it as a comparison," Jordie said, giving way too much explanation. He never was good with a comeback. "Miley Cyrus is famous. So, I'm saying it's like Sylvia is famous."

God, Jordie couldn't just let it go. Mario had gotten what he wanted, a rise out of Jordie, so he would soon lose interest.

"I'm just saying you mention Miley Cyrus a lot," Mario said to Jordie, changing tack as he lit his cigarette, then took it away from his lips to blow at the ember. "If that's what you're into, that's cool."

"Watch out," I said with a nod toward the parking lot. "Your mama just got here, Mario."

Mario's cigarette was already on the ground, his foot hovering just above it as he spun to look over his shoulder in a panic. Jordie and Chick laughed in appreciation as Mario cussed at me.

"Pendejo motherfucker," Mario said. He scowled in my direction as he bent over to retrieve his cigarette, now flattened, the tip still barely smoking. He straightened the cigarette again and relit it, then kicked my shoe.

"Mama's boy," I said, the worst insult we could throw at each other short of talking shit about someone's mom. Maybe I was immune to Mario, but I could still get him just about anytime I wanted.

"So, Jordie," Mario said, "that girl Cheryl. I saw you talking to her at the funeral."

"Seriously?" I asked, giving Jordie a pained look. "You were hitting on girls at my sister's funeral? Damn, man," I said with a shake of my head.

If fucking with Jordie were an Olympic-qualifying event, Mario and I would have gold and silver medals. We never messed with Chick. He was too sensitive and was always the first to come to the defense of whoever was being singled out for mistreatment. Even though most people knew never to fuck with Chick because of me, he still got picked on and bullied when I wasn't around. But Jordie was fair game. Since he had gotten a car for his seventeenth birthday and was waiting to hear about early acceptance to Dartmouth Jordie had become almost impossible to be around. He was so consumed with his future, how every choice, every test grade, could have some devastating impact on his life plan. Jordie had so much going for him — money, good looks, supportive family — that I figured anytime Mario and I could give him some self-esteem-reduction therapy, it was just helping him out.

Jordie was stricken at my comment, like I was really upset he had been hitting on girls at Syl's funeral, and looked back and forth between Mario and me questioningly. "I wasn't hitting on her. I was just talking to her. She approached me," he said defensively. "Why? Do you ... I mean, you don't think she's into me, do you?"

"You mean, because of your looks?" Mario asked. "Absolutely not. But for your money? Yeah, maybe."

"You guys are dicks," Jordie said, finally catching on to the fact that we were messing with him. "Cheryl's family has plenty of money. She doesn't need mine."

"She does look expensive," Mario said.

"I'd be careful with that girl," I said. "She knows how to look out for number one."

"Yeah, well, nobody asked you, so stop talking," Jordie said. "Anyway, Jaz, you're the one who's going to be getting the serious strange. I must have had fifty girls asking me about you this past week, since Sylvia died."

"Me too." Chick, rejoining the conversation abruptly, had been lost in his own head for a bit, the way he got sometimes when his mind wandered to places most other people's didn't go. "Girls were asking me about Jaz. Wanting to know where he hangs out and whether he's dating anyone."

"Congratulations," Mario said then flicked his cigarette butt toward the parking lot. "You've hit the big time. You'll be like a celebrity until everyone remembers they only give a fuck about themselves."

"Hey, Jaz, you want us to stick around?" Jordie asked.

"Nah," I said. "You guys have suffered enough. You go ahead." Since I knew they would stay if I asked, I didn't really need them there.

"I can drop you guys off on my way home," Jordie said.

"You guys go ahead," Mario said as he settled onto the stoop beside me. "I'm going to hang for a bit."

Mario and I sat in silence and watched Jordie and Chick walk to Jordie's car. It wasn't until you saw Chick walking beside someone as healthy and athletic as Jordie that you really noticed how stunted and wilted he was. It was several minutes after Jordie's car had disappeared behind the next apartment building that I broke the silence.

"I couldn't touch that casket," I said. "I couldn't stop thinking about her — I mean her actual body — being in that box. Creeped me the fuck out, man."

Mario just nodded in understanding as he tossed a pebble across the sidewalk.

"Everyone at the funeral probably thought I was a total freak," I said and rested my forearms on my knees, one hand grasping my opposite wrist. I squinted into the sun as it set over the roof of the neighboring building.

"Who gives a fuck what anybody thinks?" Mario asked. "She was your sister."

"Yeah, I know. I don't give a shit." And it was true. In that moment, I didn't really give a shit about anything.


I knew I couldn't avoid it forever, would eventually have to go interact with people who had come for Sylvia's funeral. Mario followed me back inside the apartment. I knew he would stick it out to the bitter end, even if he was dying to get out of his suit and tie as much as I was.

Though I knew it was spotlessly clean in our apartment, everything looked shabby and worn next to the neatly pressed outfits people wore. The sofa bed was put away but it was still kind of weird to have a bunch of people, who were really just strangers to me, sitting where I slept.

Aunt Gladys and some of Mom's friends from work had spent the day before the funeral cleaning the apartment and getting ready for company. Everybody had come back to our place to eat after the funeral. Neighbors had been coming by all week with food and Aunt Gladys had gotten some deli platters from the Safeway. That seemed weird to me too. People bring a whole bunch of food over to the house and then we have to feed them after the funeral, clean up their mess.

Mom was in rough shape, had been crying nonstop for the past week, and wasn't even really able to greet the guests who came to offer their condolences. Many times over the past week I had thought about touching her in some way, putting my arm around her or something to offer her comfort, but lately I had gotten the sense that she didn't really want me around. Like maybe she wished that it were me who had died instead of Sylvia.

We hardly ever had company. Sylvia never brought her friends home because she was too ashamed of our living conditions, and since the television was in Mom's room, we usually kept the sofa bed out. When Sylvia's dad still lived with us we had a four-bedroom apartment and I had my own room. Now I used the living room, so if we did have people over it made the situation kind of awkward, like now, when it would be obvious to anyone that there were only two bedroom doors. Maybe people would think Sylvia and I had shared a room.

At first people had just stood around the edges of the room, talking in whispers like we were still in church. No one wanted to dive straight for the food. Everyone held back, trying to be polite, but I could see them all looking at the spread. There were heaps of sandwich meat and cheese and some of those baby quiches. You'd have to eat two dozen of them just to get a decent mouthful so I left those alone.

Our little apartment was so crammed with people it was impossible to get to the bathroom, which was constantly in use anyway. I was standing there with Mario, thinking about how badly I had to piss when Alexis, Sylvia's best friend and a Wakefield cheerleader, showed up with her mom and dad. She looked like a doll dressed in a charcoal gray dress with her black hair pulled back in a severe bun, her face clear of any makeup.

Sylvia had been a cheerleader, and the members of the squad had kept a vigil at the hospital while Sylvia languished in her coma. The cheerleaders had gotten special permission to take turns missing school so that Sylvia was never alone. I had gone to the hospital a few times to visit Sylvia, but always at times when I knew I wouldn't run into any of her friends. As immediate family I was allowed to visit Sylvia after visiting hours, but I never could stay in the room with her very long. I spent most of the time I was at the hospital drinking really terrible coffee in the cafeteria.

"Hi, Jason," Alex said with a sniffle.

She looked older than I would have expected. Just a week ago she had seemed like a little kid to me, my kid sister's silly little friend. Now she looked like a young woman, and not a bad-looking one either. She startled me by leaning over to give me a hug, and she held on to me while her whole body shook with sobs.


Excerpted from Breakaway by Kat Spears. Copyright © 2015 Kat Spears. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.

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Breakaway: A Novel 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As always
Madison-s_Library More than 1 year ago
A harsh and expressive book about friendship. Both confronting and endearing. Breakaway is about four boys who are friends, but as their final year of high school progresses they realise they don't really know why they are close or what they have in common. Let's start with Jason, or Jaz as he is know by his friends. He is our main character and he narrates the novel. At the start he is mourning the death of his sister. Jaz reads like a typical 17-year-old boy. He is slightly dislikable, yet honest, harsh and sometimes apologetic for the way he comes across. His life is falling apart, but he copes with it pretty well and is smart, making wise choices (sometimes) and thinking about the consequences of his decisions (though this sometimes comes after the fact). I felt like Jason didn't have any goals, nothing he was working towards. He is just suffering through each day. As his circle of friends break apart, he finds a reprieve in Raine. A girl he once dismissed as rich and shallow, but now realises he can be honest with her and connect with her in a way he no longer can with his friends. Mario, Chick and Jordie complete the friendship group in question. Mario is perhaps Jaz's closes friend, but is now hanging with a different crowd and taking drugs Jaz wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. Jordie has always struggled to align his friendship with Mario, Jaz and Chick, to the life his wealthy family want him to have. His new girlfriend (also rich and a member of the country club) makes the disparities between his two lives even more apparent. And then there is Chick. Overlooked and unassuming. Which is exactly how his friends see him. They look out for him, but can't quite connect with him. I cannot say I loved this book, it made me too sad to really love it and didn't give me enough hope to redeem it. The ending hit me out of nowhere and just tops off what is overall a really tragic book. I felt that I must not have the complete book, in fact I even contacted the publishers to confirm it was the full text. It was. So I was left hanging, feeling like I didn't really know what the point of the book was. Maybe it was to look out for your friends before it's too late, or don't put a girl above your friends. But it's only as I am writing this review that I realise what the title means (his group of friends breaking away from one another) and how much the friendship was the focus of the book. Yes, this friendship, and it's gradual destruction is indicated in the summary, but I still didn't pick up that it was the main focus. I still don't know what the book's main message was, but I can appreciate the book as it was. Breakaway was, as with Sway, well written. Threads are interwoven seamlessly, such as the boys' friendship, Jaz's growing relationship with Raine, the grief of Jaz and his mother and the undercurrents of Jaz's absent father. I liked how I was reading and understood the things that go unsaid and are only confirmed much later. Im not entirely sure how much I liked this book, but perhaps it is one to read again and mull over the fine nuances. The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.