After her sister left, Caitlin felt lost.
Then she met Rogerson.
When she’s with him, nothing seems real.
But what happens when being with Rogerson becomes a larger problem than being without him?
“Another pitch-perfect offering from Dessen.” —Booklist, starred review
Also by Sarah Dessen:
Along for the Ride
Keeping the Moon
Lock and Key
The Moon and More
Someone Like You
The Truth About Forever
What Happened to Goodbye
About the Author
Dessen’s books are frequently chosen for the Teens’ Top Ten list and the list of Best Fiction for Young Adults. They have been translated into twenty-five languages. Sarah Dessen is the recipient of the 2017 Margaret A. Edwards Award from the Young Adult division of the American Library Association.
Sarah Dessen graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with highest honors in creative writing. She lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, Jay, and their daughter, Sasha Clementine.
Visit Sarah at sarahdessen.com.
Hometown:Chapel Hill, NC
Date of Birth:June 6, 1970
Place of Birth:Evanston, Illinois
Education:University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, degree in English.
Read an Excerpt
When I was four and Cass was six, she whacked me across the face with a plastic shovel at our neighborhood park. We were in the sand box, and it was winter: In the pictures, we're in matching coats and hats and mittens. My mother loved to dress us alike, like twins, since we were only two years apart. We did look alike, with the same round face and dark eyes and the same brown hair. But we weren't the same, even then.
The story goes like this: Cass had the shovel and I wanted it. My mother was sitting watching us on a bench with Boo, who had her camera and was snapping pictures. This was at Commons Park, the small grassy area in the center of our neighborhood, Lakeview. Besides the sandboxes it also had a swing set, one of those circular things you push real fast and then jump on—a kind of manual merry-go-round— and enough grass to play baseball or kickball. Cass and I spent most of the afternoons of our childhood at Commons Park, but the shovel incident is what we both always remembered.
Not that we ourselves recalled it that well. We had just heard the story recounted so many times over the years that it was easy to take the details and fold them into our own sparse memories, embellishing here or there to fill in the blanks.
It is said that I reached for the shovel and Cass wouldn't give it to me, so I grabbed her hand and tried to yank it away. A struggle ensued, which must have looked harmless until Cass somehow scraped one hard plastic edge across my temple and it began to bleed.
This moment, the moment, we have documented in one of Boo's photos. There is one picture of Cass and me playing happily, another of the struggle over the shovel (I'm wailing, my mouth a perfect O, while Cass looks stubborn and determined, always a fighter), and finally, a shot of her arm extended, the shovel against my face, and a blur in the left corner, which I know is my mother, jumping to her feet and running to the sandbox to pull us apart.
Apparently, there was a lot of blood. My mother ran through the winding sidewalks of Lakeview with me in her arms, shrieking then took me to the hospital where I received five tiny stitches. Cass got to stay at Boo and Stewart's, eat ice cream, and watch TV until we got home.
The shovel was destroyed. My mother, already a nervous case, wouldn't let us leave the house or play with anything not plush or stuffed for about six months. And I grew up with a scar over my eye, small enough that hardly anyone even noticed it, except for me. And Cass.
As we grew older, I'd sometimes look up to find her peering very closely at my face, finding the scar with her eyes before reaching up with one hand to trace it with her finger. She always said it made her feel horrible to look at it, even though we both knew it wasn't really her fault. It was just one more thing we had in common, like our faces, our gestures, and our initials.
When Cass was born my mother still wasn't sure what to name her. My mother had suffered terrible morning sickness, and Boo, who had moved in next door during the fourth month or so, spent a lot of time making herbal tea and rubbing my mother's feet, trying to make her force down the occasional saltine cracker. Boo was the one who suggested Cassandra.
"In Greek mythology she was a seer, a prophet," she told my mother, whose tendencies leaned more toward Alice or Mary. "Of course she came to a horrible end, but in Greek mythology, who doesn't? Besides, what more could you want for your daughter than to be able to see her own future?"
So Cassandra it was. By the time I came along, my mom and Boo were best friends. Boo's real name was Katherine, but she hated it, so I was named Caitlin, the Irish version. Cass's name was always cooler, but to be named for Boo was something special, so I never complained. Her name was just one thing I envied about Cass. Even with all our similarities, it was the things we didn't have in common that I was always most aware of.
My sister wasn't a seer or a prophet, at least not at eighteen. What she was, was student body president two years running, star right wing of the girls' soccer team (State Champs her junior and senior year), and Homecoming Queen. She volunteered chopping vegetables at the homeless shelter for soup night every Thursday, had been skydiving twice, and was famous in our high school for staging a sit-in to protest the firing of a popular English teacher for assigning "questionable reading material"—Tony Morrison's Beloved. She made the local news for that one, speaking clearly and angrily to a local reporter, her eyes blazing, with half the school framed in the shot cheering behind her. My father, in his recliner, just sat there and grinned.
There were only two times I can remember ever seeing Cass really depressed. One was after the soccer State Championship sophomore year, when she missed the goal that could have won it all. She locked herself in her room for a full day. She never talked about it again, instead just focusing on the next season, when she rectified the loss by scoring the only two goals of the championship game. The second time was at the end of her junior year, when her first real boyfriend, Jason Packer, dumped her so he could "see other people" and "enjoy his freedom" in his last summer before college. Cass cried for a week straight, sitting on her bed in her bathrobe and staring out the window, refusing to go anywhere.
She drew back from everyone a bit, spending a lot of time next door with Boo where they drank tea, discussed Zen Buddhism, and read dream books together. This was when Cass became so spiritual, scanning the world around her for signs and symbols, sure that there had to be a message for her somewhere.
She got into three out of the four schools she applied to, and ended up choosing Yale. My parents were ecstatic and threw a party to celebrate. We all applauded and cheered as she bent over to slice a big cake that read WATCH OUT YALE: HERE COMES CASS! which my mother had ordered special from a bakery in town.
But Cass wasn't herself. She smiled and accepted all the pats on the back, rolling her eyes now and then at my parents' pride and excitement. But it seemed to me that she was just going through the motions. I wondered if she was looking for a sign, something she couldn't find with us or even at Yale.
She stayed in this funk all the way through graduation. In mid-June she went to stay with her friend Mindy's family at the beach and got a job renting out beach chairs by the boardwalk every day. Three mornings into it she met Adam. He was down at the beach on vacation with some friends from the show, and rented a chair from her. He stayed all day, then asked her out.
I could tell when she called the next morning, her voice so happy and laughing over the line, that our Cass was back. But not, we soon learned, for long.
I don't think any of us knew how much we'd needed Cass until she was gone. All we had was her room, her stories, and the quiet that settled in as we tried in vain to spread ourselves out and fill the space she'd left behind.
Everyone forgot my birthday as our kitchen became mission control, full of ringing phones, loud voices, and panic. My mother refused to leave the phone, positive Cass would call any minute and say it was all a joke, of course she was still going to Yale. Meanwhile my mother's friend from the PTA and Junior League circled through the house making fresh pots of coffee every five minutes, wiping the counters down, and clucking their tongues in packs by the back door. My father shut himself in his office to call everyone who'd ever known Cass, hanging up each time to cross another name off the long list in front of him. She was eighteen, so technically she couldn't be listed as a runaway. She was more like a soldier gone AWOL, still owing some service and on the lam.
They'd already tried Adam's apartment in New York, but the number had been disconnected. Then they called the Lamont Whipper Show, where they kept getting an answering machine encouraging them to leave their experience with this week's topic—My Twin Dresses Like a Slut and I Can't Stand It! —so that a staffer could get back to them.
"I can't believe she'd do this," my mother kept saying. "Yale. She's supposed to be at Yale." And all the heads around her would nod, or hand her more coffee, or cluck again.
I went into Cass's room and sat on her bed, looking around at how neatly she'd left everything. In a stack by the bureau was everything she and my mother had bought on endless Saturday trips to Wal-Mart for college: pillowcases, a fan, a little plastic basket to hold her shower stuff, and her new blue comforter, still in its plastic bag. I wondered how long she'd know she wouldn't use any of this stuff—when she'd hatched this plan to be with Adam. She'd fooled us all, every one.
She had come home from the beach tanned, gorgeous, and sloppy in love, and proceeded to spend about an hour each night on the phone long-distance with him, spending every bit of the money she'd made that summer.
"I love you," she'd whisper to him, and I'd blush; she didn't even care that I was there. She'd be lying across the bed, twirling and untwirling the cord around her wrist. "No, I love you more. I do. Adam, I do. Okay. I love you too. What? More than anything. Anything. I swear. Okay. I love you too." And when she finally did hang up she'd pull her legs up against her chest, grinning stupidly, and sigh.
"You are pathetic," I told her one night when it was particularly sickening, involving about twenty I love yous and four pumpkins.
"Oh, Caitlin," she said, sighing again, rolling over on the bed and sitting up to look at me. "Someday this will happen to you."
"God, I hope not," I said. "If I act like that, be sure to put me out of my misery."
"Oh, really," she said, raising one eyebrow. Then, before I could react, she lunged forward and grabbed me around the waist, pulling me down onto the bed with her. I tried to wriggle away but she was strong, laughing in my ear as we fought. "Give," she said in my ear; she had a lock hold on my waist. "Go on. Say it."
"Okay, okay," I said, laughing. "I give." I could feel her breathing against the back of my neck.
"Caitlin, Caitlin," she said in my ear, one arm still thrown over my shoulder, holding me there. She reached up with her finger and traced the scar over my eyebrow, and I closed my eye, breathing in. Cass always smelled like Ivory soap and fresh air. "You're such a pain in the ass," she whispered to me. "But I love you anyway."
"Likewise," I said.
That had been two weeks earlier. She had to have known even then she was leaving.
I walked to her mirror and looked at all the ribbons and pictures she had taped around it: spelling bees, honor roll, shots from the mall photo booth of her friends making faces and laughing, their arms looped around each other. There were a couple of us, too. One from a Christmas when we were kids, both of us in little red dresses and white tights, holding hands, and one from a summer at the lake where we're sitting at the end of a dock, legs dangling over, in our matching blue polka-dot bathing suits eating Popsicles.
On the other side of the wall, in my room, I had the same bed, the same bureau set, and the same mirror. But on my mirror, I had one picture of my best friend, Rina, my third-place ribbon from horseback riding, and my certificate from the B honor roll. Most people would have been happy with that. But for me, with Cass always blazing the trail ahead, there was nothing to do but pale in comparison.
Okay, so maybe I was jealous, now and then, but I could never have hated Cass. She came to all my competitions, cheering the loudest as I went for the bronze. She was the first one waiting for me when I came off the ice during my only skating competition, after falling on my ass four times in five minutes. She didn't even say anything, just took her mittens, gave them to me, and helped me back to the dressing rooms where I cried in private as she unlaced my skates, telling knock-knock jokes the whole time.
To be honest, a part of me had been looking forward to Cass going off to Yale at the end of the summer. I though her leaving might actually give me some growing room, a chance to finally strike out on my own. But this changed everything.
I'd always counted on Cass to lead me. She was out there somewhere, but she'd take her own route, and for once I couldn't follow. This time, she'd left me to find my own way.
The next morning when I woke up I realized I hadn't dreamed at all, not even one fleeting image. I took the book Cass gave me out from under my bed, where I'd hidden it, and opened it to the first page, There was a drawing of a full moon, sprinkled with stars, in the corner.
August 18, I wrote at the top of the page. Nothing last night. And you're still gone.
I couldn't think of anything else, so I got out of bed, threw on some clothes, and went down the hallway to the kitchen. The door to my parents' room was closed and my father was in his office, on the phone. He had to have talked to a hundred people in the last twenty-four hours.
"I understand that," he was saying, his voice level, but I could tell he was frustrated. "But eighteen or not, we want her home. She's not the kind of girl who does something like this."
The door to his office was half open, and I could see him standing by the window, running his palm over the small bald patch at the back of his head. My father, as the Dean of Students at the university, dealt with problems every day. He was the stand-in parent for thousands of undergraduates, and was quoted each time a fraternity got caught pulling pranks or a beer bash got out of hand. But this was different. This was about us.
I pulled the patio door open and slipped outside, where it was thickly hot and muggy, another August morning. But at least it was quiet.
Next door, I could see Boo and Stewart sitting at their kitchen table, eating breakfast. Boo raised her hand, waved, and then gestured for me to come over, smiling. I took one look back at my own house, where my mother's stress filled the rooms to the ceiling, leaving a stink and heaviness like smoke, and started across the one strip of green grass that separated their backyard from ours.
When I was little and got in trouble and sent to my room, I'd always sit on my bed and wish that Boo and Stewart were my parents. They'd never had kids of their own. My mother said it was because they acted so much like children themselves, but I liked to think it was so they could be there for me, if I ever needed to trade my own family.
The window in my room faced their back sunporch, an all-glass room where Boo kept most of her plants. She was mad for ferns. Stewart's studio—he taught art at the university—was just off that room, in what was supposed to be the living room. They kept their bed in the corner, and they didn't even have any real furniture to speak of; when you were invited over, you sat on big red velvet cushions decorated with sequins that Boo had picked up on a trip to India. This drove my conservative mother crazy, so Boo and Stewart almost always came to our house, where Mom could relax among the safety and comfort of her ottomans and end tables.
But that was what Cass and I love most about them: their house, their lives, even their names.
"Mr. Connell's my father, and he lives in California," Stewart always said. He was a mild and quiet man, quite brilliant, whose hair was always sticking straight up, like a mad scientist's, and flecked with various colors of paint.
For most of the nights of my life I could hear Stewart coming home late from his university studio, the brakes of his bike—they had an old VW bus, but it broke down constantly—squeaking all the way from the bridge down the street. He'd glide down the slope of their yard, under the clothesline, to the garage. Sometimes he forgot about the clothesline and almost killed himself, flying backward while the bike went on, unmanned, to crash against the garage door. You'd think they would have moved the clothesline after the second time or so. But they didn't.
"It's not the fault of the clothesline," Stewart explained to me one day, rubbing the red, burned spot on his neck. He'd broken his glasses again and had them taped together in the middle. "It's about me respecting it as an obstacle."
Now Boo slid their door open and came out to meet me on their patio. She was in a pair of old overalls, a faded red tank top underneath, and her feet were bare. Her long red hair was piled on top of her head, a few chopsticks stuck in here and there to hold it in place. Inside, Stewart was sitting at the table, eating a big peach and reading a book. He looked up and waved at me; he had juice all over his chin.
"So," Boo said, putting an arm around my shoulder. "How are things on the home front?"
"Awful," I said. "Mom won't stop crying."
She sighed, and we stood there for a few minutes, just looking across their yard. Boo had gone through a Japanese garden stage a few years back, which resulted in a footbridge and a fat, rusted iron Buddha sculpture.
"I just can't believe she didn't tell me anything," I said. "I feel like I should have known something was going on."
Boo sighed, reaching to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. "I think she probably didn't want to put you in that position," she said, squatting down to pull a dandelion at the edge of the patio, lifting it to her face to breathe in the scent. "It was a big secret to keep."
"I guess." Someone was mowing their lawn a few yards down, the motor humming. "I just thought everything was perfect for her, like it always was. You know?"
Boo nodded, standing up and stretching her back. "Well, that's a lot of pressure. Being perfect. Right?"
I shrugged. "I wouldn't know."
"Me neither," she said with a smile. "But I think it was harder for Cass than we realized, maybe. It's so easy to get caught up in what people expect of you. Sometimes, you can just lose yourself."
She walked to the edge of the patio, bending down to pull another dandelion. I watched her, then said, "Boo?"
"Did she tell you she was going?"
She stood up slowly. "No," she said, as the lawnmower droned on down the street. "She didn't. But Cass had a hard year, last year. Things weren't always as easy as she made them seem, Caitlin. It's important that you know that."
I watched her pull a few more flowers, adding them to the bunch in her hand, before she came over and squeezed my shoulder. "What a crappy birthday, huh?" she said.
I shrugged. "It doesn't matter. I wouldn't have done anything anyway."
"What about Rina?" she said.
"She's off with her new stepdad," I told her, and she shook her head. "Bermuda this time." My best friend Rina Swain's mom had just gotten remarried again: This was number four. She only married rich, and never for love, which led to Rina living in nicer and nicer houses, going to endless exotic places, and piling up huge therapy bills. Rina had what Boo called Issues, but the guys at school had another name for it.
"Well, come inside," Boo said, pulling the door open and stepping back to met me in first. "Let me make you breakfast and we'll not talk about any of this at all."
I sat down at the table next to Stewart, who had finished his peach and was now sketching on the back of the power bill envelope, while Boo filled a mason jar with water and arranged the dandelions in it. Stewart's canvases, both finished and unfinished, covered the walls and were stacked against any solid surface in the house. Stewart did portraits of strangers: All his work was based on the theory that art was about the unfamiliar.
Stewart might have been unconventional, but his art classes were insanely popular at the university. This was mostly because he didn't believe in grades or criticism, and was a strong proponent of coed massage as a way of getting in touch with your artistic spirit. My father had been quoted about Stewart's teaching practices more than once, and always used words like unique, free spirit, and artistic choice. Privately, he wished Stewart would wear a tie now and then and stop leading meditation workshops in the quad on big football weekends.
Stewart looked over and smiled at me. "How's it feel to be sixteen?"
"No big difference," I said. With all the confusion, my father had forgotten about taking me to get my driver's license, but everyone had been so crazy I hadn't wanted to ask.
"Oh now," he said, pushing the envelope away and putting down his pen. "That's the great thing about aging. It just gets better every year."
"Here you go," Boo said, plunking a plate down in front of me: scrambled tofu, Fakin' Bacon, and some pomegranates.
"I remember when I was sixteen," Steward said, sitting back in his chair. His feet were bare, too, and sprinkled with green paint. "I hitched a ride to San Francisco and had a burrito for the first time. It was incredible."
"Really," I said, picking up the envelope he'd been doodling on. It was just half a face, sketchily drawn. I turned it over and was startled to see something in Cass's writing: her name, doodled in blue, signed with a flourish, as if she'd been sitting in this same chair some other morning, eating scrambled tofu, just like me.
"Just being free, out on the road, the world wide open…" He leaned closer to me, but I was still looking at Cass's name, suddenly so sad I felt like I couldn't breathe. It seemed impossible that Cass had been planning to change her life completely while none of us even noticed; even when she doodled on that envelope, it could have been on her mind.
"…anything possible," Stewart was saying. "Anything at all."
I blinked, and swallowed over the lump in my throat. I wanted to keep that envelope and hold it close to me, like it was suddenly all I had left of her, some sort of living part pulsing in my hand.
"Caitlin?" Boo said, coming over and bending down beside me. "What is it?" She leaned down and saw the envelope, catching her breath. "Oh honey" she said, and even before she wrapped her arms around me I was already leaning in, tucking my head against her shoulder as she held me, as I knew she'd held Cass, in this same chair, at this same table, in this same light, on other mornings, not like this.
When I walked up to our sliding glass door, the phone was ringing. No one seemed to be around, so I picked it up.
There was silence, with just a bit of buzzing.
My father appeared in the doorway, out of breath: He'd been outside, in the garage. "Who is it?"
I shook my head. "I don't"
He was immediately beside me, pulling the receiver out of my hand. "Cassandra? Is that you?"
"Jack?" my mother said from their bedroom. I could hear her moving, coming closer, and then she appeared in the hallway, clutching a tissue, one hand over her mouth. "I dozed off. Is it"
"Cassandra, listen to me. You have to come home. We're not mad at you, but you have to come home." His voice was shaking.
"Let me talk to her," my mother said, coming closer, but he shook his head, holding out one hand to keep her there.
"Tell her we love her!" my mother said, and I couldn't stand the way her voice sounded, unsure and wavering. I slipped around them both and into my room, slowly picking up my own phone. On the line, no one was speaking.
"Cassandra," my father said finally. "Talk to me."
Silence. I pictured her standing in a phone booth by a highway, cars whizzing by. A place I'd never seen, a world I didn't know. Then, suddenly, I heard her voice.
"Daddy," she began, and I heard my father take in a breath, quickly, as if he'd been punched in the stomach. "I'm okay. I'm happy. But I'm not coming home.""Where are you?" he demanded.
"Let me talk to her!" my mother shrieked in the background. She could have gone into my father's office and picked up the extension there, but I knew she wasn't thinking of that, couldn't even move from that spot in the hallway where she was standing. "Cassandra!"
"Don't worry about me," Cass said. "I'm"
"No," my father said. "You must come home."
"This is what I want," she said. "You have to respect that."
"You're only eighteen," my father told her. "This is ridiculous, you can't possibly know"
"Daddy," she said, and I realized suddenly I was crying, again, the receiver wet against my face. "I'm sorry. I love you. Please tell Mom not to worry."
"No," my father said, firm. "We are not"
"Caitlin?" she said suddenly. "I know you're there. I can hear you."
"What is she saying?" my mother kept asking, now close to the receiver. "Where is she?"
"Margaret, just hold on," my father told her.
"Yes," I whispered back to Cass. "I'm here."
"Don't cry, okay?" she said. The line crackled, and I thought of her tackling me that night, her breath against my neck, laughing in my ear. "I love you. I'm sorry about your birthday."
"It's nothing," I said.
There was a voice outside her end, a yell, and another buzz on the line. "Is that him?" my father demanded. "Is he there?"
"I have to go," she said. "Please don't worry, okay?"
"Dammit, Cassandra," my father said. "Don't you hang up this phone!"
"Good-bye," she said softly, as my father's voice dropped away. "Good-bye."
"Cassandra!" my mother wailed into the phone, all the anger and fear of the last twenty-four hours bursting across the line. "Please"
Click. And she was gone.
What People are Saying About This
"It's not only the plot that's vivid; the characters are also intensely real. Another pitch-perfect offering from Dessen." (Booklist, starred review)
Reading Group Guide
When he hit me, I didn't see it coming, It was just a quick blur, a flash out of the corner of my eye, and then the side of my face just exploded, burning, as his hands slammed against me.
Strange, sleepy Rogerson, with his long brown dreads and brilliant green eyes, had seemed to Caitlin to be an open door. With him she could be anybody, not just the second-rate shadow of her two-years-older sister Cass. But now she is drowning in the vacuum Cass left behind when she turned her back on her family's expectations. Caitlin wanders in a dreamland of drugs and a nightmare of sudden fists, trapped in her search for herself.
As violence becomes more and more prevalent in our world, one out of every five teenage girls in America will be beaten by a dating partner, and one third to one half of married women will be victims of abuse. Yet shame, fear, and assumed guilt keeps many in conspiracy of silence about this widespread but invisible anguish. Why do girls allow themselves to get into such relationships—and what keeps them there?
In this riveting novel, Sarah Dessen searches for understanding and answers through the mind of a young girl who suddenly finds herself in a trap of constant menace, a trap that is baited with love and need. More and more she must frantically manage her every action to avoid being hit by the hands that had seemed so gentle. All around Caitlin are women who care—best friends, mother, sister, mentor—but she can confide in none of them, especially not Cass, her brilliant older sister, whose own flight from home had seemed to point the way for Caitlin.
Dessen has here created a subtle and compelling work of literature that goes far beyond the problem novel in a story rich with symbolism, dark scenes of paralyzing dread, quirky and memorable characters, and gleams of humor. With the consummate skill and psychological depth that brought her praise for Keeping the Moon, she explores the search for self-identity, the warmth of feminine friendships, and the destructive ways our society sets up young women for love gone wrong.
ABOUT SARAH DESSEN
Sarah Dessen grew up in Chapel Hill, where she teaches fiction writing at the University of North Carolina and recently married her high school sweetheart. Dreamland is her fourth novel for young people.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
Books by Sarah Dessen:
HC: 0-670-89122-3, $15.99 ($22.99 CAN)
Keeping the Moon
HC: 0-670-88549-5, $15.99 ($22.99 CAN)
PB: 0-14-131007, $5.99 ($8.99 CAN)
Someone Like You
HC: 0-670-87778-6, $16.99 ($23.99 CAN)
PB: 0-14-130269-0, $4.99 ($6.99 CAN)
PB: 0-14-038688-2, $5.99 ($8.99 CAN)
I Never Asked You to Understand Me
by Barthe DeClements
Puffin Books, 0-14-130059-0, $ 4.99 ($ 6.99 CAN)
In a school for "dropouts and druggies," Didi finds friends who help her put her life back together after his mother's death.
Zero at the Bone
by Michael Cadnum
Viking Children's Books, 0-670-86725-X, $ 15.99 ($ 22.99 CAN)
Puffin Books, 0-14-038628-9, $ 4.99 ($ 6.99 CAN)
After Cray's older sister Anita doesn't come home that night—or ever—he and his family are left searching for reasons for her disapperance.
When She Was Good
by Norma Fox Mazer
Em's huge, dangerous big sister Pamela is dead, but her voice goes on telling Em that she's stupid and bad and deserves to be hit.
Breaking Free from Partner Abuse
by Mary Marecek
Morning Glory Press
A simply written little book that uses quotes from abused women, poetry, and helpful advice, to drive home the message that "people aren't for hitting." Includes 16 page mini-lesson on abuse.
Resources to Help Stop Partner Violence:
If you or someone you know is having trouble with partner violence, here are some organizations that you can turn to.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Advice, comfort, and referral for teens in violent relationships, available 24 hours a day.
"Love Doesn't Have to Hurt Teens"
A teen-friendly website, sponsored by the American Psychological Association, that offers counsel to girls who think they may be headed for an abusive relationship.
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
A referral organization that works to develop national and local programs and distributes materials, like their guide for parents, "Helping Teens Stop Violence."
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
A gathering of organizations and groups working to stop partner abuse. Distributors of the "Rough Love" video and teaching guide.
A CONVERSATION WITH SARAH DESSEN
How did you get started writing young adult fiction?
To be honest, I fell into it. But it is a voice that really works for me, partially because I live in my home town, and I'm very close to all of my friends from high school. A lot of my memories are very vivid because I'm still in the same place. It's easy to reach back when you drive past your high school at least once a week.
Tell me how you came to write about dating violence.
I've had several friends—not myself personally, because I've been dating the same person since high school—who have been in bad relationships like this and I didn't know until years later. Teenage girls are evolving so much and it's so easy—the first time when you fall in love especially—to think maybe this is just the way it's supposed to be, or "Nobody will ever love me again." You don't have the strength that you would have later, to walk away. In writing this book there was such a sense of having to be very, very careful with this topic and very responsible with it.
Because you may have readers who are in this situation looking to you for answers.
Exactly, although this is not a problem novel. I also felt I had to be responsible about the role of marijuana in the story. I worried that when Corinna and Caitlin are sitting on the couch together for endless afternoons looking at television and smoking pot that it was going to seem frivolous, like I was making it seem attractive. But Caitlin uses it to dull her senses, and Rogerson is the one who starts her on it, and it's what enables her to endure his abuse. So I definitely needed it there, and I'm prepared for controversy.
Did your editor feel the same way?
I was so glad I was with Deborah Brodie for this book, because she allowed me to be true to my voice; she was respectful in not wanting to tinker with things too much, and that was great. And she has amazing insight—I could not have done better!
Patty Campbell is a longtime critic, librarian, editor, writer, and teacher in the field of young adult literature. She was the winner of the 1989 Grolier Award for distinction in the service of young adults and reading.
"I was born in 1970 in Illinois, but all the life I remember I’ve spent in Chapel Hill, NC. My parents were both professors at the University of North Carolina: my mom is a classicist (which means she knows everything you could ever imagine about myths, Latin, and words) and my dad teaches Shakespeare (which means I’d seen As You Like It about five times by the age of 18.) I have one brother, who is a musician and lives in California with his son and his wife, an artist who designed my personal website. (Thanks, Mariangeles!)
"I’ve been writing, in one way or another, for as long as I can remember. I was always a big reader, mostly because my parents were. I used to get frustrated with my mom because she bought me books for Christmas when what I really wanted were the gifts my friends got, things like sweaters and jewelry. But I did love to read. When I was eight or nine my parents gave me an old manual typewriter and a little desk in the corner of our den, and I’d sit there and type up my stories. I was the kind of kid that people always sighed over and said, "She has such a wild imagination," which usually meant "I wish Sarah would try to stick to the truth." I have a tendency to embellish: I think it’s just a weakness of fiction writers. Once you learn how to make a story better, it’s hard not to do it all the time.
"In high school, I was lucky enough to have a big group of girlfriends that have really inspired a lot of the stories in my books. I’m still close with my friends from that time, so it’s never very hard to put myself back into that place, that voice. Also it doesn’t hurt to still be living in my hometown, where it’s a given that I’ll bump into people I had homeroom with, or guys I had big crushes on, while I’m pumping gas or buying stamps. It makes it hard to leave high school behind entirely, which is a good or bad thing depending on what day you ask me. I attended college at UNC, where I studied creative writing and graduated with a degree in English. (Which means I can quote small parts of many Great Works. Comes in handy occasionally, like at cocktail parties.) I’d been on the five-and-a-half year college plan, and when I graduated my parents were hoping I’d settle down and get a Real Job so they could stop worrying about me. But instead of doing the whole resume/pantyhose thing, I decided to stick to my job waiting tables at the world famous Flying Burrito Restaurant and try to publish a novel. At the time, I had only one very bad book I’d written my senior year of college and the beginnings of another one. Luckily, my family was supportive and I spent a few years living in a ramshackle little house where I wrote during the day and did the restaurant thing at night.
"Three years after graduating, I sold my first book, That Summer, but it wasn’t until a year after that that I got offered a teaching job and left waitressing for good. I still miss it sometimes, though. It was a great job for a writer. Endless conversations to eavesdrop, tons of material, and fast money without ever taking work home. Plus, free Mexican food, the best perk of all. Now, I’ve published four books, all for young adults. I never really intended to be YA writer, but the second book I showed my agent she thought had a strong teenage voice, so she sent it off to an editor at Orchard Books, who bought it. Even though it was in a way accidental, I’ve found that writing for teens suits me. I do short stories, and other novels, that are for an older audience, but again and again I am brought back to the stories of high school. Maybe it’s because so much happened to me then that I’m not finished yet telling everything. My senior quote was from Pink Floyd (okay, I was a bit of a burnout-I spent a lot of time in the parking lot, whatever, let’s move on) and it pretty much summed up my future, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was: "The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say." It turns out that I did.
"The books I read when I was teenager, the good ones anyway, have stuck more in my mind than anything since. I still love books, but while I couldn’t tell you complete plots of novels I read even six months ago, I do remember even the smallest descriptive details from Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die or Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I think it was because back then books were still somewhat new to me, and when I found an author who seemed to say just what I was feeling, it really struck me and resonated. I hope that my books do that for the people who read them: I think it’s the best thing to which any writer can aspire. Now, I teach writing at UNC-Chapel Hill, where I’m lucky enough to see my students find their own voice, the way I did in the same program there not so long ago. Teaching is great for me, because I get to show people how writing can really change the way you see not only yourself but the world. I’ve found in my own life that if my writing isn’t going well, not much else will. It is the one constant, the key to everything else.
"As far as my other life, my non-writing life, I live in the country with my husband, some lizards, and two dogs who are completely spoiled and rule me completely. I like to work in my garden-although I have not yet perfected the art of keeping everything aliveand, in my weaker moments, shop. I have a bit of an addiction to the Gap clearance rack, to be honest. I have this strange need to buy huge quantities of black pants. How many pairs of black pants does one person need? (Obviously for me, the answer is 11 and counting. But I digress.) What else can I tell you? I love Starbucks mochas but they make me way hyper. I subscribe to too many magazines. I make a mean bean salad. I could go on, but the truth is, my books are much more exciting than I am, and that’s a good thing. It’s always more fun to make stuff up anyway."