Graceby T. Greenwood
Every family photograph hides a story. Some are suffused with warmth and joy,
T. Greenwood's extraordinary novels, deftly combining lyrical prose with heartrending subject matter, have earned her acclaim as a "family-damage specialist" (Kirkus). Now she explores one year in a family poised to implode, and the imperfect love that may be its only salvation.
Every family photograph hides a story. Some are suffused with warmth and joy, others reflect the dull ache of disappointed dreams. For thirteen-year-old Trevor Kennedy, taking photos helps make sense of his fractured world. His father, Kurt, struggles to keep a business going while also caring for Trevor's aging grandfather, whose hoarding has reached dangerous levels. Trevor's mother, Elsbeth, all but ignores her son while doting on his five-year-old sister, Gracy, and pilfering useless drugstore items.
Trevor knows he can count on little Gracy's unconditional love and his art teacher's encouragement. None of that compensates for the bullying he has endured at school for as long as he can remember. But where Trevor once silently tolerated the jabs and name-calling, now anger surges through him in ways he's powerless to control.
Only Crystal, a store clerk dealing with her own loss, sees the deep fissures in the Kennedy family--in the haunting photographs Trevor brings to be developed, and in the palpable distance between Elsbeth and her son. And as their lives become more intertwined, each will be pushed to the breaking point, with shattering, unforeseeable consequences.
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By T. GREENWOOD
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 T. Greenwood
All right reserved.
Kurt is suddenly aware of the way the snow looks like something living, like something with a purpose. He has always thought of snow as simply falling from the sky, at mercy to gravity. But now, as he marches out across the snow-covered field behind the house, his rifle drawn and aimed at the back of his only son's head, he sees that it is intent in its falling. Resolute, determined, even calculated in its descent.
Trevor is three feet ahead of him, trudging through the snow, bare hands shoved into his pockets, head bowed in deference to the blistering assault. It is midnight, but the sky is opaque and bright. It is only December, but it has been snowing for two days straight; they are up to their shins in it. Trevor is not wearing a coat, hat, or gloves. He is in jeans and the navy chamois shirt he had on when Kurt dragged him from his room into the mudroom, where he had allowed him to put on his boots before pushing him through the door into this cold, white night.
As they pass the unmarked boundary between their property and their neighbors', Trevor hits a deep patch of snow and sinks in up to his knees. If you didn't know better, you might think he was praying, only genuflecting to the falling snow.
As Trevor struggles to move forward, he glances over his shoulder at his father. For years, the arch of his brow, the thick dimple in his chin, the boyish smirk have been like reflections in a mirror held up to Kurt's own boyhood. This used to make him swell a bit with proprietary pride. But now these similarities seem to mock him, accuse him. You made this, they say. You are this.
"Dad," Trevor says, but Kurt can't hear. It's as though his head is full of snow—cold, thick, numb. "Daddy." Snot has frozen in two slow paths from nose to lip. His eyes are swollen.
Trevor is thirteen, and he looks exactly like Kurt did at thirteen. He is the same height, the same weight. He has identical ears, the same bent pinkie finger, Kurt's slight overbite and white-blond hair.
When they finally get to the top of the hill where Kurt used to take Trevor sledding when he was a little boy, to the place where the entire world shimmers then disappears in the valley below, Kurt says, "Stop."
The sound of his voice is like ice breaking. Like springtime at Joe's Pond when the ice goes out. The crack, the shift, the signal that the thaw has begun. But Kurt knows that this is a weakness he cannot afford. He must stay solid, frozen, numb. There cannot be any cracks, any fissures in this ice.
They are far enough away now from the house where, on any other night, they would be sleeping. But the house is empty. There is no one to hear the gunshots.
"Turn around," Kurt says.
Trevor turns to face him again. But this time, it's not the face of a child he sees. Nor is it the face of the monster he has turned into. Instead, his hair is covered in a thin layer of white, and Kurt can see the old man each of them might one day become.
Trevor puts his hands up, as if his palms might be enough to protect him. "Don't, Daddy," he pleads.
At this, Kurt lowers his rifle, turning his gaze from his son to the sky. He watches the shards of ice, the intricate, gorgeous filaments, as they continue to fall. And he thinks of the news footage he saw right after the attacks on the World Trade Center, before the media realized what they were showing—the men who broke windows, climbed ledges, and leapt to their deaths. The falling men, the men forced to choose one kind of death over another.
Kurt looks back at Trevor, who is crying now, tears and snot freezing upon impact with the air. He lifts his gun to his shoulder again, and the snow makes a lens of ice as he peers down the sight.
It started with a gift.
The box was blue, the same color blue as the eggs Trevor found up in the eaves of the shed earlier that morning, the color of crushed-up sky. Mrs. D. gave it to him after the bell rang and almost everybody else had already packed up their stuff and headed out the door. He was messing around in his backpack, worrying about where he was going to sit at lunch, and didn't know that she was trying to get his attention. But then she touched his arm, real soft, with her talcum-powder hands and said, "Trevor dear, can you wait just a minute, please? I have something for you."
Mrs. D. was the art teacher at Trevor's school. A lot of kids were creeped out by her; some of the younger ones even thought that she was a witch or something. She did look a little bit like a witch, with the small hump underneath her moth-hole-riddled green sweater, with the threadbare black wig she wore. She smelled dusty and old too, like wet books. Some kids cackled whenever she turned her back, called her Nanny McPhee, but Trevor liked Mrs. D. So what if she was old and strange? She was a good artist, a good teacher. The fruit she drew always looked like fruit: bananas and apples and a pomegranate, its seeds spilling out all over the table like the insides of the buck that Trevor's dad shot last year. Plus, Mrs. D. was always giving him things to bring home—a box of waxy oil pastels, some tubes of acrylic paint that she was about to throw away. One time she gave him a set of colored pencils that weren't even opened yet. Besides, Trevor liked being in the art room. He loved the smell of paint and paste, the dusty, musty scent of it all. He liked the way the canvases looked like boys leaning against the brick walls. He liked the paint-splattered floors, the rough wooden worktables, the high ceilings, and the quiet. It was almost like being in a library here; and when the doors closed behind him, he felt suddenly secure, sheltered, at peace.
He opened the box and pulled out a camera. A real camera, heavy and black with a glass lens: the old-fashioned kind. For the last few weeks, they'd been doing a unit on photography, and this camera was like the ones each student was allowed to sign out, but this one was brand-new.
"Have you ever had your own camera before?" she asked.
He shook his head.
He thought of the slide show she'd shown them last week. Ansel Adams, that was the landscape guy. Some old lady who took pictures of flowers. But Trevor had liked the picture of people, the portraits, best. Faces. Mrs. D. had explained that photographers could be artists, that a good photographer uses the light to make ordinary or even ugly things beautiful. He thought about the kind of pictures he might take, about the faces he knew.
"The school will probably do away with the darkroom eventually. Move everything to digital. But for now, I can still teach you how to develop the film. How to make prints." Her head shook back and forth like a bobblehead doll, her voice made of tissue paper. "I want to see the world the way you see it, Trevor."
He wasn't sure why Mrs. D. took such an interest in him. He wasn't a good artist. Not like Angie McDonald in his class, whose paintings always looked like what they were supposed to. The things he drew never matched what was inside his head. He couldn't get what was up there on the page, and he wasn't sure anybody would want to see that anyway. But since sixth grade, Mrs. D. had looked at him like she saw someone special inside there. Nobody had ever looked at him like that before.
He'd been thinking a lot lately about the way people looked at him. He'd grown so much since last year, he barely recognized himself in the mirror. He'd outgrown every pair of pants, every pair of shoes he owned. He felt like the Incredible Hulk, busting out of his own clothes. Kids had always been mean to him, teased him, but now the same kids moved away when he walked down the halls at school, pretending like he wasn't there but still making sure to get out of his way. His teachers, except for Mrs. D., now looked at him like he was one of the bad kids. Like he was the troublemaker. His mother looked at him with sad eyes mostly, though he knew she was trying not to. If pity were a picture, it would be a picture of his mother. His dad's face was full of worry too, though he tried not to show it. His little sister, Gracy, was the only one who didn't look at him with some shade of disgust or disappointment. But she was only five; what did she know?
"Thanks," he said and took the camera from Mrs. D. and turned it over in his hands, excited to give it a try. He peered through the viewfinder and twisted the lens only to focus in on Jolyn Forchette, who was jealous and smelled like green beans, scowling at him from across the room. He crammed the camera into the backpack with the math homework he hadn't turned in and a banana that had been sitting in there so long it had turned brown and soft.
"It's already loaded," Mrs. D. said. "Just shoot."
He forgot about the camera as he made his way to the cafeteria for lunch. As the sea of students parted for him, liquid and flowing, whispering and sneering, he kept his head down, his gaze at the floor. He tried to make himself invisible, though that's nearly impossible when you're six feet tall in the seventh grade and you wear a size ten shoe. Still, he tried his best to disappear. But then as he made his way past a group of snickering and pointing seventh-grade girls, he started to feel that bad metal feeling. Corroded. That was the only way to describe it. Like his insides were rusted out, like one of his dad's cars at the yard. He could even taste it sometimes way back in his throat. He tried to swallow it down hard, but the metallic taste lingered on his tongue, made the insides of his cheeks itch.
He tried to ignore them and went to a table near the hot lunch line. He only had $1.50, which didn't go far in the à la carte line. The few times he'd tried to get a decent meal there, he'd wound up starving by the end of the day, his stomach roiling and furious. Only losers got hot lunch, but at least the hot lunches filled him up. He threw his backpack down into a chair and grabbed a tray. That was the other good thing about hot lunch; there wasn't a wait, so there would actually be enough time to eat after he got back to his table.
Spaghetti. That meant there would be bread too and those electric orange cubes of cheese. Gray-green broccoli and chocolate pudding with skin on top. He was hungry. His mom had made eggs and bacon and hash for breakfast, but he felt hollow now. His body burned through fuel faster than his dad's pickup.
He pushed the brown plastic tray along the metal rollers and he watched as a group of seventh-grade guys went right to the table where his backpack was. He grabbed a carton of chocolate milk from the bin filled with ice and glanced over at the table, hoping they'd notice his pack and go somewhere else.
"Here you go," the lunch lady said, handing him a sloppy plate of spaghetti. He took a pair of tongs and grabbed a clump of cheese cubes and three spongy slices of garlic bread.
The guys didn't seem to notice Trevor's backpack holding his place. They were all sitting at the table, laughing and eating their à la carte burgers and French fries. Trevor shoved the money at the hot lunch cashier and made his way over to the table.
"Fee Fi Fo Fum," said one of the kids.
"That's my backpack," Trevor said softly.
"That's my backpack," mimicked the kid in a girly voice. He had red hair that covered one eye like a comma. Ethan Sweeney. Of course.
Trevor reached for his backpack but Mike Wheelock, with his greasy black hair and a Patriots jersey, grabbed it first.
"Hey, freakshow, what do you keep in here? Body parts? I bet he's got some dead chick's head stuffed in here," he said, laughing.
"Just give it," Trevor said.
Mike started to unzip the backpack and stuck his head in to inspect.
"Ew, what's that smell?" he said, jerking his head back. The banana.
The other guys leaned over to see inside. And suddenly Trevor felt the metal turning into quicksilver, mercury rushing through his veins.
"What's this?" the Sweeney kid asked, reaching in and grabbing the camera from Mrs. D.
"I said, give it," Trevor said. He thought about Mrs. D., picking out the camera and paying for it out of her own pocket. He thought about what the kid might do to it.
"Give it, give it," Ethan mocked, his voice high and sharp.
Normally, Trevor just tried to ignore these guys, but lately, he couldn't seem to control himself. It was like this new body of his, these new hands, had a mind of their own. So the next thing Trevor knew, the tray of spaghetti was flying onto the floor and his fists were swinging, though they connected with nothing but air. The whole cafeteria erupted, the chanting starting small and growing bigger, like a heartbeat. Fight, fight, fight.
His eyes stung and his mouth flooded with the taste of metal. But before he had the satisfaction of his fist making contact with Ethan's face, someone was yanking his collar hard, choking him. He shook his head like a dog on a chain, and the hands let go, making him stumble backward.
"All right, that's enough. Break it up," Mr. Douglas, the janitor, said.
Trevor blinked hard and when his eyes focused again, he noticed the way the sunlight was shining through the cafeteria window, casting his own shadow, enormous and dark on the filthy cafeteria floor. And he thought about the gift from Mrs. D. About the camera. About how he might capture this picture: his own terrifying silhouette and all of the other kids' faces staring at him with something between fascination and horror.
Elsbeth looked at the catalogues that came in the mail with the models in their bathing suits and flip-flops and dreamed herself somewhere warm. It was April, spring everywhere else but here in Vermont, where yards were still laced with patches of dirty snow and you could still see your breath, like ghosts, when you went outside. Her girlfriend, Twig, went on a cruise for Christmas last year. She and her boyfriend flew down to Miami and then got on a ship to the Bahamas. She came back the color of a ripe peach with streaks of sunshine shimmering in her hair, like she'd captured the sun itself and brought it home with her. This was one of those things Elsbeth ached for, another one of those things she knew that she and Kurt probably wouldn't ever be able to afford to do. Still, she marked the bright green two-piece in the Victoria's Secret catalogue with a coupon for mayonnaise she clipped earlier, and set it on the kitchen table next to the stack of neglected bills.
Elsbeth had worked at the salon all morning and then picked Gracy up from her half day at kindergarten after lunch. Gracy had fallen asleep in the car on the way home and, thankfully, stayed asleep as Elsbeth carried her inside and put her in her bed. Trevor would be at school for another couple of hours, and Kurt would be at the yard until suppertime. There was a roast in the Crock-Pot, so supper was taken care of, and so she had exactly two more hours of peace. Two more hours when she didn't have to tend to anybody else's needs except for her own. This was her guilty pleasure. This solitude. Sometimes she just lay down on the couch and closed her eyes for the whole two hours, waiting for Gracy to call for her and break the spell. She knew she could be, should be, catching up on the laundry. She knew she had dishes to do, grout to scrub, floors to mop, but this was the only time of day when she could hear her own thoughts. The only time of day when she was completely and absolutely alone.
She lay on the couch and glanced at the magazine. The model was bustier than she was, with more up top and in the rear than Elsbeth had. The model had flowing auburn hair, while Elsbeth's was the color of coal tar pitch. She wore it in a ponytail most days like she used to when she was a little girl; it made her feel younger than her thirty years. The model was smiling, and her teeth were even and white like Tic Tacs or a row of shiny Chiclets. Elsbeth hadn't seen a dentist in a decade. And when her wisdom teeth came in, they undid all the work the braces she'd worn in junior high had done. Still, she knew she was sort of pretty to look at. She had her dimples and big wide eyes. She was no Victoria's Secret model, but her stomach was flat and her legs were long and strong. She tried to picture herself in the bathing suit, but the only real beach here was way up at Lake Gormlaith, and only teenagers wore two-pieces there. She thought of the summers when she was still a teenager:those humid nights spent drinking wine coolers and skinny-dipping. She wished she'd known then that she should hold on to that feeling—of strawberry-flavored Bartles & Jaymes on her tongue and cold water on her naked skin—because now it was so far away it felt like a whisper too quiet to hear.
Excerpted from Grace by T. GREENWOOD Copyright © 2012 by T. Greenwood. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. 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.
Meet the Author
T. Greenwood is the author of Breathing Water, Nearer Than the Sky, and Undressing the Moon, the latter two both Booksense 76 picks. She has received grants from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation and, most recently, the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches creative writing at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. She lives with her husband and their two daughters in the D.C. area, where she is also an aspiring fine arts photographer.
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This is my first book by T. Greenwood and it most definitely will not be my last! I look so forward to reading more from this author and reading her earlier books. (loved the front cover image as pulls on you- to want to learn what is inside this door and family). The writing quality, the setting, the emotion is spectacular! The character development was excellent and complex. Readers will be drawn from the front cover to the back cover. Appears as though the author is not afraid to tackle certain subjects which is commendable even though it may be difficult to read at times, like Jodi Picoult, Charles Martin, Lisa Genova, and Amy Hatvany (a fan of all). Compelling - there is so much to this novel as it goes back and forth from one generation to another. The dynamics of a family with no demonstration of love, or the holding back thereof, and non- expressive-parent who gave up their life early on and is reflective throughout their parenting as they resent being held responsible for their son, and they too are even acting out themselves in all sorts of ways to cope. (Wow, total family dysfunction and drama)! There are so many aspects to this story which is very realistic to family struggles and obstacles out there today for families which sometimes are often kept quiet and behind the scenes. Being ignored since birth, Trevor is growing up in a man’s body, his mother does not relate with repeated bullying at school with no friends. Unfortunately, he receives no help at school or a home and nowhere to turn. What makes it even worse, he has little control over his emotions. Ah, Grace comes along – the ideal child and younger sister; with all the characters circle around her as she is in the background yet one of the most important. While his parents fight to survive, Trevor finds solace in a camera as a new way to see the word thru different eyes. There is also a story of Crystal (loved this character) – a high school senior who has given birth to a baby she was forced to give up for adoption and struggling with decisions. Between Kurt, Elsbeth, Trevor and Crystal-- from their voices – their story intertwines, making this a powerful story. GRACE demonstrates how a family can be shattered to bits with sadness, and slowly come out in one piece with hope, sometimes using grief to bind them together. You will not be able to put this book down, as readers will want to devour every page - Totally amazing, intense, and captivating! Keeps you surprised with every swish of a finger, turning the page to see what is ahead.
Ahould i keep writing? Nobody comments or something...
This story certainly took me on an emotional rollercoaster while still being completely realistic. The characters and background were extremely well developed and the writing style is easy to follow. It was a great, quick read. I felt the story wrapped up nicely for all of the characters, giving a lot of hope without creating an unrealistic or cheesy happy ending. I will definitely be checking out more of her books.
"I'm not disappearing."
Well i must go blackstar is waiting for me. She us out
First book by this author. My mom left it after a vacation and my Nook died. Now I am looking to buy all the rest. Normally it wouldn't have been something I would have picked out but the style of writing captured me right from the start!
interesting family drama
Reviewed by Karen P. for Readers Favorite In "Grace" author Greenwood gets hold of the teenage mind and she just doesn't let go. "Grace" is the poignant story of a young boy who literally develops overnight and he has no comprehension of the mysteries of his own body and mind. He perceives the world from the viewpoint of someone who is an outcast to his peers and his conclusions about his own worth then follow those faulty perceptions. When reading the book, the reader will get the feeling that a highly insightful and perceptive spider has woven a web in which the reader is caught up heart and soul. The characters of Trevor and Grace (siblings) are unforgettable. They are real, tragic and endearing to the reader. They are children to be admired and cheered as they make their way through life. The parents of the children are so understandable that older readers will surely see themselves through the hearts and minds of adult parents struggling to come to terms with the growth of their own children. The character of the social outcast Crystal brings the reader to the very soul of tragedy, despair and redemption. Perhaps what struck me most about this book was the fact that the characters are so representative of the human condition in general. There is no glossing over of the reality of the individual dilemmas the characters must face. They are presented raw so that they can either be accepted for what they are or rejected as defective or deficient. This is a masterfully written piece of literature for both the young and the not-so-young.
This would make a perfect book for a book club. Lots of topics for discussion.
A mesmerizing read which captures your attention from the opening chapter. Thoughts of what could have brought the “story” to this point run foremost in your mind. There is no choice but to read on and discover for yourself! A highly emotional journey in which the characters find themselves held prisoner by even their most simplistic of desires promises to keep the reader committed to turning the pages until all becomes clear, as snapshot in time, also held prisoner. Two Rivers, an out of the way small town in Vermont in which we find a family struggling to keep it all together, during the current day economic meltdown affecting so many families these days and a young woman on the brink of adulthood struggling to come to terms with the result of actions not just her own. What possible thread could they have in common to make their paths cross? Kurt Kennedy, father of two trapped in the salvage yard business he now runs which once belonged to his stroke- ravaged father, Elsbeth his wife working in the small town beauty salon, Trevor their thirteen year old and troubled son who only wants to make the pictures he sees in his mind a reality. Crystal, who once looked forward to starting collage and the dreams of a life with her childhood sweetheart now, left alone dealing with a loss she cannot overcome. At last there is Grace, a divine favor, who at six years old, proves to be the binding force which ties them all together with the unconditional love only a child can provide.
Greenwood has written a heartrending story about a dysfunctional family living in a dysfunctional society. Once I started this novel I was unable to put it down! At times it was agonizing to read, knowing that Trevor was being bullied and picked on, yet it always turned out to be his fault. Knowing that he had no one to turn to in order to express his emotions and feelings! I do not think anyone reading this novel would be unemotional, because Greenwood pulls at the gut and heart strings like no other author I’ve ever read! The story takes place over a year, broken down into seasons. There are four main characters and a few minor characters: Kurt and Elsbeth (Trevor’s parents), Trevor and Crystal. The story takes place in all of their voices, switching back and forth throughout the novel. Kurt is trying to hold his family together financially in a world that is breaking down. Elsbeth is a kleptomaniac that showers more attention on her five year old daughter than her 13 year old son. Trevor is a 13 year old that is being bullied beyond belief, feeling as his family never wanted him and is alone in the world. Crystal is a pregnant high school teenager that gives up her daughter and belittles herself regarding the adoption of her baby girl. All four of their stories intertwine together, making you wonder how such an odd combination of characters could really exist together! Greenwood has done an breathtaking task in pulling this novel together! My heart broke into pieces, yet mended together at the end, just as the family does!
This is going to be a very mixed review. I was amazed at the quality of writing but disappointed in the story. Grace is a very heart wrenching story. It focuses on four character point-of-views, with their common link being Gracy, a beautiful vibrant little girl. • Kurt – Gracy’s father. He is hard working and struggling to keep his family healthy and happy. Now he also has to shoulder the problems of his ailing father. • Elsbeth – Gracy’s Mother – Unhappy with her choices in life and wondering what could have been. She is connected to one child and detached from the other. She is struggling with her identity. • Trevor – Gracy’s Brother – A trouble young man who has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He always feels alone and misunderstood. Not to mention the troubles of becoming a man. • Crystal – Passing Acquaintance - A young woman at a crossroads. She has similarities to Elsbeth. She is battling the fallout from a life changing choice and is drawn into the Kennedy family problems. I felt each character individually and their turmoil. Ms. Greenwood’s style of writing is wonderful and the flow of the storytelling was very well done. I was never confused and always had a clear view of whose portion of the story was being told. The beginning sequence of Grace really drew me in. Why would a father have a gun to his only son’s head? I can’t remember a book that had me wanting to sneak a peek at the ending more. It grabbed me, but the hold was not very strong. These characters were riddled with problems, secrets and oddities. This was a slow and agonizing journey for me. I think I didn’t like it 100% because I’m not used to this type of storytelling. There was no romance, suspense or reason for the story. Grace was a no holds bar look into the troubled lives of these four people. I saw the not so good, very bad and the disturbingly ugly. I was sad or angry throughout most of the story. This book really highlights the importance of open communication. Their personal problems were so apparent, but each had their own demons to fight and it was amazing how utterly alone they all felt. I wanted to help each of them so much, but I felt trapped watching their lives crumble. • Am I sorry I read Grace? No, not really • Will I be thinking about this novel in the near future? Yes, their stories were that heartbreaking • Will I read other books written by Ms. Greenwood? Hmmm, I’m not sure. I don’t like sad stories. So all-in-all, Grace is a very well written book. I cannot fault Ms. Greenwood on the quality of the story, writing or development of the characters. It just isn’t my cup of tea. I read to escape and this story was not an escape for me. Ms. Greenwood does live up to her title of the “family-damage specialist”. After reading this story I need a quick dose of happily ever after.
I'm giving this book two stars. Not because it isn't written well, or because T. Greenwood is not a talented writer, but this was a very hard book for me to get into. It was very depressing, and there wasn't must suspense, mystery, or romance in it. To be honest, maybe there is....but I didn't get around to reading it because I wasn't able to finish it. I REALLY wanted to get into this book and tried to MANY times....but after several attempts I found myself "dreading" having to pick up this book and read it rather than "not being able to put it down." I will keep in my library and try to come around and read it again at another time in my life. Maybe I will "connect" with it then.