Kirkus Reviews' Best Indie Books of 2019
2019 Maxy Awards "Best Young Adult"
“With sophisticated prose, this gritty coming-of-age story blends the familiar and the unthinkable as the lead learns to use her voice.” –KIRKUS REVIEWS
Kit Kat was born in Athens, Greece. Her mother was a prostitute, and their protector was a pimp. After an early childhood marked by violence, homelessness, and time in an orphanage, a Greek-American woman adopted her and moved her to New York. Kit Kat was eight years old, with a new name, a new country, and a new mother who tried to silence her memories and experiences. She sought refuge in books, and after a failed suicide attempt at the age of thirteen, she discovered Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This book saved her life, and at fifteen, Kit Kat begins to write letters to Jane Eyre as a means of surviving a childhood she still remembers, the family she left behind, and the new mother that refuses to acknowledge her past.
Kit Kat’s letters to Jane Eyre demonstrate the resilience and power that she derives from Jane's own dark narrative and the parallels between their lives that include being neglected, unloved, poor, orphaned, and almost destroyed by the madwoman in their lives. This coming of age and semi-autobiographical novel is about family, loss, forgiveness, and the power of a good book.
|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Edition description:||First Printing ed.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
About the Author
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"I know I should think well of myself; but that is not enough: if others don't love me, then I would rather die than live – I cannot bear to be solitary and hated."
Two years ago, I tried to kill myself. I was thirteen.
I've never told anyone.
I've never even said the words aloud, even to myself. Hearing them would make it too real, too painful. It's a secret that I have held onto since that night, but it's a secret that keeps taunting me with the vengeance of a school bully that gets bigger and badder as she circles her prey. I wish it would let go because I don't feel strong enough not to follow through with my willful thoughts. They burn into me, whispering how safe I would feel, how light, how free.
I'm scared it might be easier this time. After all, I'm fifteen now. More miserable. Stronger. More confident in my desire to leave this place and all the memories I keep twisted into little knots in the marrow of my bones. Brittle bones that look for hard corners and solid walls to smash into. A break might give me the relief I need to feel something other than shame and hate. All this quiet rage that brings me back to that night two years ago when I stood in the bathroom, cold and alone, the sharp tips of my scissors digging into my chest.
I tell you these things because I know you understand them, understand me. And you're safe. I'm safe with you. After all, you're not real. Just a fictional character, a girl Charlotte Brontëcreated in her imagination. And yet, you come from somewhere real. From her. From her experiences with being a poor, rejected girl. She created you this way, too. It's probably why I am drawn to you. I am you as you are Charlotte, and the two of you are the ones who come close to understanding me, for I am like you, rejected by those who volunteered to love us – and then chose not to. So maybe I can tell you everything. Every black secret, every memory I am forbidden to breathe into the light, the names of every person that I have been forced to bury into the black matter of my thoughts as if they have never existed. Maybe I can write to you about my new mother, the one that adopted me but wants to raise me in silence.
Maybe I can even tell you about that night.
It all started with a fight over Farida Ali. She was my best friend in eighth grade. Half-Indian and half-Irish, she was beautiful and smart, and half the time I wondered why she was friends with me, because I was, and still am, plain and small and awkward as hell.
We had a half-day at school, so I brought her home with me while my mother, Ann, was working in Brooklyn. She's a middle school science teacher. The truth is, I was breaking her rules by bringing Farida to our apartment. She was the one girl I couldn't have over. My mother hated her, or at least she hated Farida's mother, Linda.
"I don't like her mother," she told me whenever I broached the subject of bringing my friend over or going to her apartment in Forest Hills.
"You've never met her mother." I rolled my gaze away from hers.
My mother pursed her lips in that tight and stern way that she does, as if she's drawing a line between us that I cannot cross. But I crossed it anyway because I was not good at making a lot of friends, and Farida was the closest one I had.
"I spoke to her." My mother raised her head so that when she looked at me, it was at a downward scope, through the lenses of her bifocals sitting at the tip of her Greek aquiline nose. She treats me as if I am one of her students when she does that, not her daughter.
"Your friend's mother called me a few weeks ago, and she had the nerve to tell me that I was being too harsh with you." My mother doesn't name people she doesn't like. Farida was my "friend," and Linda was "she" or "her mother." It's as if by not referring to them by name, they don't exist for her.
I didn't say anything. I was reveling in the fact that someone had stood up for me. Knowing it was Linda made it even better. She was the kind of mom I had imagined prior to my adoption. Warm and funny and loving, she was similar to my Aunt Thalia, back in Greece, who had combed lice out of my hair, cleaned the cuts and infections on my skin, and fed my belly with food that I hadn't found in garbage cans.
"You talk about me," my mother interrupted my thoughts.
"Farida's my friend. We talk about everything."
"You talk about me. To her mother, a complete stranger. You tell them that I'm not your real mother."
"You are my mom," I told her softly. "You're the only mom I have."
"That's not true."
I lowered my lashes and remained mute. How could I tell her that yes, I talked to Linda about her, and when Linda heard that my own mother wouldn't hug me, wouldn't let me tell her about my birth mother and father, my siblings, the abuse I still remember, Linda put her arms around me, pushed the dirty blond hair off my wet cheeks, and kissed my forehead.
"I wish I could adopt you," she smiled at me.
"Please do not talk about me. I don't appreciate it," my mother disrupted my thoughts.
With that, she walked away from me, leaving me alone in the kitchen, or in the living room, or in the hallway. I am always left, somewhere, standing alone, watching as she walks away from me.
What she didn't allow me to say to her was that Farida and her mother weren't strangers. Not to me. Farida was my best friend. Her mother gave me a home away from my own home, where mothers and daughters weren't a mystery to each other.
I brought her to my house that afternoon, despite my mother's wishes, because she wouldn't be there and because I wanted my friend to see where I lived. She had never even seen my room, while I had been in hers plenty of times.
My mother's aunt was staying with us. Her name was Maria, and she was from Athens, Greece. As a matter of fact, she had been the one who had taken care of me while my adoption was being finalized. I was seven then. I did not like her one bit, so having her stay at our apartment was not a comfortable experience for me. I was awkward around her and had nothing to say to her, in English or in Greek. Silence was my armor, and it worked. She wanted as little to do with me as I did with her. Bringing Farida with me that afternoon had much to do with our friendship as it had to do with the fact that I did not want to be alone with yiayia Maria.
Yiayia is how I referred to her in Greece. Grandmother, out of respect for her age and the fact that we couldn't figure out what my connection to her would be, given my adoption into the family. She was my mother's aunt, but her age required me to call her my yiayia.
"Your name is Joyce, OK?" I told Farida as I placed the key inside the lock of our main door.
"Why?" Farida giggled.
"Because Joyce is my friend down the block, and my mom is OK with her coming over. Oh, and squint your eyes so you look Chinese," I instructed her.
"I so do not look Chinese." Farida poked me on the shoulder and turned me around to look at her. Farida had golden skin, thick, light brown hair, and these big, chestnut-shaped eyes that rendered mine ordinary.
"That's because I wear make-up," she told me once when I pointed to the difference in our appearance. "Your eyes would be gorgeous if you let me put mascara and liner on them."
"Ugh," I grunted. "I hate make-up. And," I added, "my mom would kill me."
"No, she wouldn't," Farida shook her head. "You need to break some rules, Kit Kat. You'll see how confident it will make you."
Farida and I didn't do much when I broke this one major rule that would get me into trouble. We hung out on the porch that opened from my bedroom, sunned ourselves, and listened to Light FM songs. Our porch overlooked a row of about six houses that extended toward the park, and we could see people entering and exiting the back entrance. When we saw a group of cute boys, we would laugh aloud, just to get their attention, and when we had it, we chatted a bit.
"Why don't you girls come here and hang out?" one of them called to us.
"Why don't you guys come over here?" Farida called out to them. "Ow!" she squealed when I pinched her.
Just then, yiayia Maria came up behind us.
"Ti fasaria yinetai etho!" she yelled at us in her high-pitched Greek.
"No trouble at all, yiayia," I responded in English. "We're just telling those boys to get lost."
"Go inside," she ordered us in English with a thick accent, her fingers pointing to the direction of my room. After we walked past her a few feet to the center of my room, she closed the glass doors that led to the porch and locked it. We stayed in my room the rest of the visit, with the door open, as yiayia Maria had instructed, and when she had to leave, I walked Farida to the train station on Queens Boulevard, around the corner from our apartment building.
When my mom came home around 6, I stayed in my room, awaiting the inevitable. She rushed in, with her aunt trailing behind her.
"Who was here?" she ordered.
"Farida." What else could I say? Farida did not look Chinese.
"I told you I did not want her to come to this house. This is my house, and you disobeyed me."
She was yelling at me, which I had not experienced from her before. Whenever she was irritated with me, she was direct, stern, but quiet. Sometimes there was a tear in her eye, as if I had wounded her, but she did not raise her voice or lose control. Which I loved about her. I had come from a place where mothers lost control, and it wasn't an experience I wanted to have again. Ever. But my new mother, who had not shown me anger before, was yelling and crying, and I wasn't sure if this was because her aunt was witness. My mother was the victim; I was the ingrate that disobeyed her, and there was a witness. Someone who was around to see that she wasn't the bad one in our situation. She wasn't a bad mother. She just had a bad child.
OK. I did disobey her. But I was thirteen, and I had a mind of my own, a will of my own, and not liking Farida because of her mother did not make sense to me. Her friendship meant more to me than my loyalty to my new mother, and I was willing to break this rule that would deprive me of my friend.
I write this part with bafflement because in all the years that I have lived with her, she has not shown me this side of her character. I was shocked when she pushed past me, spread out her freckled arm, and wiped it across my dresser. I watched as my jewelry, picture frames, and my most prized possession, a music box with a ballerina that twirled to the sweet tune of "Swan Lake," fell to the floor, most of which broke when they hit the floor, shards of glass and pieces of the ballerina's mirror scattering about my tattered sneakers.
I just stood there, not knowing what to do, while they both stared at me. My room was tiny, and they stood a foot away from me, but the distance between us seemed greater. I felt the room circling around me – a feeling I hadn't experienced since living in Greece – and definitely had not expected to find here, so many years later, when I was safe – if not happy – from the violence I had encountered there. I didn't know what would come next. A slap. A punch. Hands tightening around my throat that would make me shrink and disappear.
None of that. Just words. Heavy words that filled me with nausea, jolting me with more force than the slap I had anticipated.
"If you keep this up," my mother said to me between tears, "you will turn out just like your mother. A whore."
"You're my mother," I retorted.
Are you calling yourself a whore? I wanted to fling at her but pushed that thought down.
"We both know I'm not your real mother." Her voice was hushed, cool.
My jaw must have dropped at that moment. I'm not sure what surprised me more: the fact that she brought up my birth mother, or that she knew my birth mother had been a whore. You see, my adoptive mother never talked about my birth family, and she did not want me to talk about them either, so when this came up, I was experiencing mixed emotions. My mother called me a whore and brought up my birth mother in the same sentence. It was like speaking a secret no one could say aloud. At least I wasn't. But here she was, throwing it in my face, and all I could think about was that I wanted her to say more.
What do you know? I wanted to scream at her. Does she want me back?
And then yiayia Maria spoke, in my native tongue, a language I refused to speak as a new American adoptee angry with those who had abandoned me, sending me to this foreign country with this foreign woman I was required to call "Mama."
"It's true. She was a putana. She came looking for you, your mother. I told her to leave you alone. That you had a good family."
Yiayia Maria's words yanked my eyes towards her, and I couldn't look away. I waited for more, more words, hateful or otherwise. I wanted to hear more the way you want to hear your future when you go to a psychic, waiting for someone to see something in you no one else has because she has the magic ball that reveals everything about you.
But she said nothing more. They waited for me to say something.
Like what? I was in shock, without a voice, my heart pounding in my ears so loud that it was deafening. Blackness overcame me. A fuzziness began inside my head and then made its way to the back of my lids, and while I continued to stare at them, I couldn't see them. I had no voice, no sight. I just felt these shudders pass through my body, and I watched as they regarded each other, shook their heads, and then walked out of my room, leaving me behind, pale and mute, my feet surrounded by the shards of my meager possessions, their words still echoing inside my head.
And that's when I began to move without thinking, without taking note of my movements. I stepped over the debris at my feet, into the hallway, past the closed door of my mother's bedroom, past their whisperings behind that door, and into the hallway bathroom a few feet away. I locked the door, opened the drawer, took out the long, sharp scissors my mom used to cut my bangs, sat on the toilet bowl, took a deep breath, grabbed the scissors with both hands, extended my arms, and then brought them back to me with the force and rage I felt boiling inside me.
But nothing happened.
By the time my hands brought the tips of the scissors back to my chest, the power was gone. The anger was lost. The scissor tips barely touched my t-shirt, and I had to twist them into my skin to make the tear. A minuscule drop of blood peeked through, not the bloodbath I had imagined.
So I tried again.
I extended my arms out in front of me, gripped the scissors tightly with my fingers, and rammed them into me again. But once more, the power disappeared as soon as the scissor tips came into contact with my chest. There was a new hole in my shirt, another tiny prick in my skin, and a second drop of blood. I gave up then. I wasn't even crying at this point. I just felt defeated and sad as I let the scissors dangle loosely between my fingertips.
I sat in that spot, on the toilet seat, locked in the bathroom for an hour. And in that time, my mother never knocked on the door, never asked why I was in there for so long, or why I was in there in the first place. When I came out, the lights were turned off in the apartment, and I had to feel the short distance to my room by sliding my body against the wall. It seemed to hold me up, pushing my legs forward and into the solitary space in the apartment where I could be myself.
My mother's bedroom, right next to mine, was already locked, and the lights were out. Both were her way of letting me know that she did not want to talk to me. I locked my door, too, shutting her out in return. I threw myself onto my twin-sized bed, hating the way it squeaked when I moved or turned, no matter how slight the movement, because I knew she could hear me. And I wanted it to be as if I had disappeared.
I must go now, Jane. I'm so tired. My feet feel as if someone has tied weights to my ankles, and when I pick them up to take a step, it's as if I'm stuck in place. I want to fall where I stand and lie there without moving, go to sleep for a spell. Have you ever felt this way before?
Your friend, Kit Kat
"It was as if a martyr, a hero, had passed a slave or victim, and imparted strength in the transit. I mastered the rising hysteria, lifted my head, and took a firm stand on the stool."
I found you the next day.
I woke up as if nothing had happened and made my way to school, leaning my head against the dirty window pane of the Q60, the Green Line bus that took me to and from Russell Sage Junior High along Queens Boulevard. I roamed the hallways that day, dragging my feet from classroom to classroom in a haze. I sat in my classes but did not actually hear any lectures, and as avid a note taker as I had been, I lacked the strength to pick up my pen. I ate lunch with my friends, but I couldn't utter a word when they asked me what was wrong.
"Is it your mother again?" Farida asked between her peanut butter sandwich bites.
Her voice sounded far away, even though she was sitting beside me, her thick hair touching mine as she bent her head towards me. I nodded because when I tried to speak, nothing would come out.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dear Jane"
Copyright © 2018 Marina DelVecchio.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
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
About the Author,