Dorothy “Dee” Gale is searching for a place to belong. After their globe-trotting mother’s death, Dee and her sister Toni settled with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em in Kansas, where Dee attends graduate school. But when Dee’s relationship with a faculty member, a bestselling novelist, ends in heartbreak and humiliation, she’s caught in a tornado of negative publicity. Unable to face her colleagues—or her former lover—Dee applies to the writing program at Trinity College Dublin.
Dee’s journey to Ireland leads her to new companions: seemingly brainless Sam Clery—who dropped out of college and now runs a newsagent’s shop—is charming and hot, in a dissolute, Irish poet kind of way; allegedly heartless Tim Woodman—who stiffly refused to take back his ex-fiancée—seems stuck in his past; and fiercely loyal Reeti Kaur, who longs for the courage to tell her parents she wants to teach underprivileged girls rather than work in the family business.
In a year of opportunities and changes, love and loss, Dee is mentored by powerful women in the writing program, challenging her to see herself and her work with new eyes. With her friends, Dee finds the confidence to confront her biggest fears—including her intimidating graduate advisor, who may not be so wicked after all.
Faced with a choice with far-reaching consequences, Dee must apply the lessons she’s learned along the way about making a family, finding a home...and recognizing the power that’s been inside her all along.
|Penguin Publishing Group
|5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Our mother was Judy Gale. The artist. Every time she left us behind with a friend or a nanny or (when friends and nannies couldn't be found) bundled us off to Kansas, I'd tell my sister we were off on an adventure. Like the Pevensies fleeing wartime London or Harry taking the train to Hogwarts. Sometimes we were princesses in exile or orphans escaping cruel relatives. I dropped the orphans bit after our mother died. But lots of stories I told my little sister still began that way, with children on a trip into the magical unknown.
There was nothing magic about the English department office at Trinity College Dublin. The metal frame chairs and cinderblock walls were straight from my high school media center. The familiar smells of toner and floor cleaner overlaid the whiff of graduate student desperation in the air. Except for the glimpse of Georgian architecture through the windows and the bust of Yeats on a filing cabinet, I could almost be back in Kansas.
But this was Ireland, land of poets and fairies, witches and warriors, Jonathan Swift and Derek Mahon. I was finally moving on. Getting somewhere. Leaving my old self behind.
And maybe I was still telling myself stories to make me feel better.
I smiled hopefully at the gatekeeper behind the desk. A round woman, a cardigan draping her plump shoulders, green-framed glasses on a silver chain around her neck. "Hi. I'm here to see Dr. Eastwick?"
Her glasses flashed at me. "Sorry?"
"I have an appointment. Ten o'clock." My flight from Newark had been delayed. I'd taken a cab straight from the Dublin airport so I wouldn't be late.
She tapped her keyboard. "Name?"
My heart raced. I cleared my throat. "Dorothy Gale."
After my maternal grandmother. Dodo and Toto, Toni dubbed us when she was small. I'd never minded my old-fashioned name. It was unique, right? Mine. Nothing to be ashamed of. Until this past year, when Destiny Gayle, the titular character of a novel by critically acclaimed author Grayson Kettering, spent thirty-two weeks at the top of the New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists. It wasn't just the similarity in our names. Destiny dressed like me, in vintage skirts and thrift shop sweaters. ("Her wardrobe reflected her mind," the novel's hero said on page 32, "only gently used, full of secondhand ideas and castoff morality.") Plus, anyone who read his bio knew Grayson Kettering was an adjunct faculty member at the University of Kansas. And anyone who did a little digging-the features writer at New York magazine, say, or a book reviewer at the Washington Post or the host of Entertainment Tonight-could discover he had a two-year relationship with a graduate student there who bore a strong resemblance to brown-haired, cow-eyed Destiny.
Casting had recently started on Destiny Gayle, the movie. Fortified by a box of tissues and a cup of tea, I'd watched the ET interview from the couch in my aunt's living room.
"Was she the real-life inspiration for your character?" the host had asked Gray.
On television, Gray looked exactly like his author photo, silver threading his thick hair, the top two buttons of his shirt undone. The camera and the interviewer had loved him. An ache stabbed my chest.
I leaned forward to catch his reply.
"A case of art imitating life?" His dark, deep-set eyes twinkled. "I suppose the comparison is inevitable, if somewhat reductive. You might as well say, life imitates art."
"What about the relationship Destiny has with her professor?" the host asked.
My hand twitched, sloshing hot tea on my Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas.
"A professor at the college," Gray corrected. "Technically, she's not enrolled in any of his classes. He has no real power over her. She exerts her power-her will, her desires-over him."
I listened, stunned. The host raised an expertly threaded eyebrow. "Are you saying their relationship is appropriate?"
"It's certainly unwise," Gray admitted ruefully. Of course he had to say that now. Before, he said I was his soul mate. He told me . . . Well. Not that he loved me. Not in so many words. But he said he couldn't imagine his life without me.
"But let's not strip young Destiny of her agency," he told the interviewer. "She pursues an older man, her mentor, as willfully and aggressively as he imagines he is pursuing her." He looked into the camera with disarming directness. "You could argue that he is the one being exploited in the relationship. It's not until he's free of her stifling domesticity that he can truly express himself."
"You jerk," I yelled at my aunt's TV. Not that anyone heard me. Not the interviewer. Not my thesis advisor at KU. Certainly not Gray. Aside from that one horrible scene in his office, I'd never been able to tell him . . . to tell him . . . Anyway, I blamed myself. Gray had never coerced me into anything. I loved him. Everything he'd done, I'd let him do. Everything he'd written . . . Well, it must be partly true, right? He was Grayson Kettering, one of the modern masters of autobiographical fiction.
Aunt Em paused on her way into the kitchen. "Turn that off. Nobody cares about that garbage."
My heart burned. I rubbed at the damp spot spreading on Pooh's face. "Only four million viewers and the entire English department."
"Nobody that matters," Em amended. Which pretty much summed up her opinion of my entire postgraduate education. Her eyes narrowed in what might have been concern. "You should call the bookstore about that job. You can't sit around drinking tea in your pajamas forever."
"At least I'm not guzzling wine under a bridge."
My aunt looked disapproving. Basically, her default expression. "You need to get out more. Go somewhere. Do something."
Out of her house, she meant. Not out of the country.
But here I was.
Here you are,” the department officer said, consulting her computer screen. “Dorothy Gale, ten o’clock. You’re to see Dr. Norton over in the writing center.”
"I don't understand. My appointment is with Dr. Eastwick. I have an email."
"Dr. Eastwick cannot meet with anyone anymore. She's dead."
The blood rushed in my ears. Obviously, my hearing was affected. Still adjusting to changes in the cabin pressure or jet lag or her Irish accent or something. "I'm sorry?"
"Don't be. It's not like you killed her. Very sudden, it was."
The room whirled. My stomach dropped. It had to be a joke. A hoax. I'd never met Dr. Eastwick. I had emailed her without any real hope that she would actually reply. But she had answered all my questions. She'd encouraged me to apply. She couldn't be . . .
"Monday. Not that she'll be missed, God rest her soul."
I tightened my grip on my suitcase. The administrative officer was still talking, something about needing to meet with Dr. Norton to discuss my registration. "She'll be in her office until one. The Oscar Wilde house. 21 Westland Row," she said. "You know the way?"
I didn't, of course. I'd only seen pictures online. I nodded.
"The writing center. Right at the edge of campus. Go in through the Hamilton building. Front concourse, ground floor. There's a sign." She looked at me doubtfully, as if questioning my ability to read. "Or the security guard can help you."
I thanked her.
I paused on the steps outside, squinting. After Kansas and the airport, everything was bewilderingly bright and green. Fat white seagulls dotted the emerald lawn like sheep. Students with backpacks strolled the walks. A tour group stopped to take pictures of the library.
Some of my best memories were of libraries. Sitting on the carpet of the Brooklyn Public Library with Toni snuggled on my lap for toddler time. Hiding in the stacks in a gray-shingled cottage in Connecticut. Begging a ride in my uncle's truck to the squat brick drive-through that housed the library in Council Grove, Kansas. By the time I was fifteen, I had seven different library cards. While our mother traveled the world, creating art installations we saw only in photographs, my sister, Toni, and I shuttled from our New York apartment to the pullout couches of friends-of-friends to the tiny back bedroom of Uncle Henry's farmhouse. Books became my friends. The library was my magic kingdom, my refuge, my escape. As long as I could find the library, I was home.
I started walking.
One step at a time, I told myself. Just because my faculty contact was dead didn't mean I was doomed. Staff changes happened, right? Professors retired or went on sabbatical. Instructors failed to get tenure and moved on to other institutions or new careers. Graduate students dropped out and found jobs. Or were publicly humiliated in their former lover's bestselling novel and fled across the Atlantic rather than ever face him again.
Okay, maybe that was just me.
"If you'd come to me before . . ." My advisor at KU had looked down at his desk, not meeting my eyes. "But after two years . . ."
Two years when Gray and I had been a couple. Two years of begging for extensions, of blowing off meetings with my advisor to discuss my progress (or lack of progress) on my thesis.
"You don't need him. You can talk to me," Gray had said.
I took a deep breath. Blew it out. I could deal with this. It was a bump in the road, not the end of the world.
I'd applied to Trinity in a desperate bid to prove-to Gray, to the world, to myself-that I was not the literary vampire, the creative succubus, he'd portrayed in his novel. I hadn't expected I'd actually be accepted. I'd never dreamed I would actually come, leaving my sister behind.
But my tuition was paid. I'd had to show a receipt at the airport, along with my passport and a bank statement proving I could support myself for the next year. Which I could, even though Toni was starting college now, too. Whatever else our mother had or hadn't done for her daughters, she'd taken care of us financially. The licensing fees from photographs of her art-plus a hefty life insurance policy-were her legacy to us.
I couldn't turn back now.
The campus spread around me, windows and arches and towers of stone. It was like stumbling onto the grounds of Pemberley or into a fairy tale. Beyond the abstract sculpture thingy was a square with green on both sides. Trees. Buildings. No signs. No security guard, either.
I wandered through a gate onto a street looking for . . . What had the administrative officer said? Westland? Westmoreland? Dubliners brushed by, everyone around me moving at speed and with purpose while I trudged along, not quite sure where I was going.
Story of my life, really.
My rollaway bumped rhythmically behind me over the stones. Glancing automatically to my left, I stepped off the sidewalk and into the path of a bus. Tram. Shit.
Metal squealed. Hot wind gusted on my cheek. I jerked back, tripping over the curb, breaking the wheel on my suitcase.
I stood shaking on the sidewalk as the passengers debarked.
"You all right, dear?"
"Yeah. I . . ." A yellow caution sign across the road swam in my vision: féach gach treo. look both ways. I pulled myself together. "Yeah, thank you. I'm fine."
To prove it, I walked another block.
A bridge spanned the river ahead. I dragged my bag toward it, drawn by the sun sparkling on the water. The weary traveler left the path, following the dancing light over the water, and was lost forever in the mists as the will-o'-the-wisp disappeared in a burst of goblin laughter . . .
I shook my head to clear it. The woman at the desk said the writing center was at the edge of campus. I just had to keep walking.
But when I reached the other side, it was clear I'd gone too far. The street was lined with shops-a hair salon, a dry cleaners, a kebab house advertising pizzas and falafel. On the corner, between a metal shutter scrawled with graffiti and a sign for lottery tickets, was a blue-painted storefront with a neon open sign. clery's newsagents.
I went in to ask directions.
The bell jangled cheerfully as I opened the door. The broken wheel of my bag scraped the tile floor. Embarrassed, I picked it up.
The inside was a jumble of cheap plastic toys and bright candy wrappers, shelves crowded with packaged convenience foods, crates of fresh produce and buckets of flowers with prices scrawled on handwritten signs. Newspapers with foreign headlines were displayed by the register. A tall steel rolling shelf, stacked with loaves of bread, occupied one corner near the front of the shop.
"What can I get you?" asked the man behind the counter, closing his book.
I couldn't read the title. I jerked my gaze back to his face.
He quirked an eyebrow. "Coffee?"
I swallowed, suddenly parched with longing. "Do you have tea?"
"You're in Ireland," he said. "You can always have tea. Or Guinness or whiskey."
He was tall and skinny, dressed in black jeans and a rumpled gray T-shirt, his hair tied back from a narrow face. His long jaw was covered in stubble, like an incognito movie star or a dissolute poet after a three-day binge.
"Tea would be great. Chai? To go," I said.
"Masala chai?" He had a lovely voice, a lilt running over the deeper tones like water over rocks. He was a songwriter. Single, of course. He performed at night in indie clubs, taking inspiration from the strangers he encountered at his day job, and he wrote a song based on me that became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic and Gray heard it and . . .
Okay, so being someone else's muse hadn't worked out so well for me.
"Spiced tea," he said patiently. "Do you want milk?"
"Yeah. Um. Maybe a little sugar?" I set down my bag to pay, counting out the unfamiliar currency before curling my hands gratefully around the fragrant cup. "Thank you."
"I guess the accent gives me away," I said ruefully.
Humor creased his face. "That, and the boots."
"What? Oh." I glanced down at my cowboy boots, a going-away present from Toni. "I suppose those would be a clue."
"And the suitcase."
The suitcase. I sighed. I wasn't eager to drag my busted bag through the unfamiliar streets of Dublin with a hot to-go cup in one hand. I had time-didn't I?-to sit down with a cup of tea before I went to see Dr. Norton.