Unleaving

Unleaving

by Melissa Ostrom

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Overview

"For fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak..."—Voices of Youth Advocates

In a book that is both urgent and timely, Melissa Ostrom explores the intricacies of shame and victim-blaming that accompany the aftermath of assault.

After surviving an assault at an off-campus party, nineteen-year-old Maggie is escaping her college town, and, because her reporting the crime has led to the expulsion of some popular athletes, many people—in particular, the outraged Tigers fans—are happy to see her go.

Maggie moves in with her Aunt Wren, a sculptor who lives in an isolated cabin bordered by nothing but woods and water. Maggie wants to forget, heal, and hide, but her aunt’s place harbors secrets and situations that complicate the plan. Worse, the trauma Maggie hoped to leave behind has followed her, haunting her in ways she can’t control, including flashbacks, insomnia and a sense of panic. Her troubles intensify when she begins to receive messages from another student who has survived a rape on her old campus. Just when Maggie musters the courage to answer her emails, the young woman goes silent.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250132819
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 03/26/2019
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,210,553
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Melissa Ostrom is the author of The Beloved Wild. She teaches English literature at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

IN THE SEPTEMBER of her nineteenth year, Maggie Arioli did not cover a slender mattress with an extra-long fitted sheet. She did not thrill over the single dorm room her sophomore status at Carlton College would have won her. She did not buy expensive textbooks. She did not lug books or anything else down campus sidewalks shadowed by trees, their leaves green but leaning toward gold. She did not admire the elegant marble pillars or trust the keepers of the columned edifices to edify her, shape and improve her, deepen her like a well and then fill her with wishes. She did not sidle between young men or young women or gaze up at the mountains of two ranges. She did not walk by McCullers Hall, with its white cupola, or the Stanton Center and its bell tower. She did not visit the musty quiet of Swan Library. She did not enter the electric sparseness of a classroom.

She prepared to leave the valley, put the mountains behind her, and stay with her mother's sister, Aunt Wren, in New York, not the city but the state, a western portion and probably, in general, an infrequently imagined place. The aunt, whose artwork entailed communications with larger, livelier worlds, said as much to her niece during the awkward phone conversation when the arrangements were made ("for your sabbatical," as Maggie's mother had lightly coined it).

"It feels like an apology," Aunt Wren had said, "clarifying not the city, the state, pointing out the seven-hour distance between my version of New York and other people's. I'm between Rochester and Buffalo, I'll say. Then it's: Oh. Where it snows so much. That's what we've got — weather."

As if to prove it, from nine in the morning until three-thirty in the afternoon, the span of the September trip, rain fell with increasing violence. Through the initial sprinkle, as her mother drove, Maggie mentally said good-bye to Vermont — Carlton, in particular, not just her college town but her hometown. She was half-mournful. The other half of her: Fuck this place. I never want to see this fucking town again.

Scotia. Amsterdam. Green interstate signs, alternately Something-Spa and Something-Falls, signaled her and Mom's proximity to Saratoga destinations. Their route took them close to a hillside town over a river. Dark buildings, severe and brick and incongruously ruffled with gingerbread trim, sat blank-windowed on their craggy inclines above the brown water, like hopeless giants reduced to their laceedged underwear and contemplating death by drowning. New York, Maggie decided, was bleak and ugly.

Then suddenly, the mountains disappeared. Just like that. The earth flattened. She couldn't see what was coming. She couldn't see what she'd left behind. What she saw was sky, and rain filled it.

Bleak and ugly and flat.

The weather worsened after Syracuse. Her mother, leaning forward, gripped the steering wheel with both hands. Like a thundercloud, her dusky hair had answered the moisture in the air with threatening billows, a surge in frizz and curls. She usually would have remedied the anarchy with a hairband and ponytail, but this morning, she didn't seem to notice, not even when she glanced in the rearview mirror. She changed lanes, flexed her hands, and rolled her neck.

"Want me to drive for a while?" Maggie dabbed at her hair. Similarly huge.

"In a storm?" Mom shook her head. Woods lined both sides of the thruway, and the trees drooped in the rain. "Too much of this, and we won't have a pretty fall. It will ruin the foliage."

"Yeah." Good. Maggie pictured her old campus sopping, the leaves ripped off the branches and plastered to the ground. Maybe Carlton College would flood. An apocalyptic deluge.

They got off Interstate 90 at Exit 45 and took I-490 into Rochester. The highway became a dizzying loop that wound around skyscrapers, billboards, river, and stadium. Mom attended to the GPS with the concentration of someone expecting to get lost. Which could happen. She had only a hazy idea of where they were going. Aunt Wren was Mom's twin but, for three decades, more of a distant acquaintance. The aunt had gotten out of Carlton at eighteen, almost as soon as she'd tossed aside the tasseled graduation cap. Her trouble had been with their parents, not her sister, but Mom had never shared Wren's contention with their folks. That difference of opinion had landed Maggie's mother in the disowned camp, until last October, when poor Grandma and Gramps died in a car accident. Mom and Aunt Wren had talked more since then.

Maggie eased back and closed her eyes. She ordered her body to relax.

Cut it out. Grab her hands, Matt. Fucking relax, okay?

Her eyes flew open.

"Lake Ontario Parkway's up ahead. Won't be long now." The traffic had trickled off. Though lightning split the sky and the windshield wipers' speedy sluice could barely keep up with the downpour, Mom exhaled and smiled a little. "Go ahead and take a nap. I can figure out the rest."

Maggie frowned. What was her mother talking about? She hadn't played navigator once.

The implication was nice, though. Her mere presence helping, comforting.

She closed her eyes again, willed her brain shut, too. She didn't sleep. Couldn't. Hardly ever anymore. It was like she'd lost the knack.

* * *

Aunt Wren lived at the dead end of a dirt road called Ash Drive. A generous person might have called the place rustic. However, holding open a screen door patched with duct tape, Aunt Wren, herself, hollered through the heavy rain, "Welcome to the shack!" and beckoned with a wave.

Maggie stared at the aunt. This could be no other than the aunt. She looked just like Mom but also (in the severe haircut, threadbare jeans and flannel, and unmade-up face) totally different. Bizarro Mom.

From inside the car, Maggie's mother smiled nervously and raised a hand. She had her car door cracked, but instead of leaping out with her own shout of greeting, she scanned the property and murmured in hollow astonishment, "Holy crap. What a ..." The smile looked ready to collapse. "I'm just not sure about this, honey."

This: the aunt's unpainted hovel; Lake Ontario, like a molten metal beast gnawing the pebbly shore that crept all the way up to the porch's crooked steps; the woods on the other side, black and grim and wet; and the yard, oozing mud and collecting puddles, the entire surface looking diseased, covered with lesions and sores.

Mom took a deep breath, like a person preparing to dive into the sea, shot out, and slammed her door. Running in a crouched position, head bowed, arms awning her hair, she zigzagged around the reddish pools that bubbled in the torrent.

Maggie clumsily got out of the car and shut the door. Thunder cracked. Startled, she jumped, lost her footing on the slick ground, and almost fell. "Shit." Lightning illuminated the lake. It was an arresting sight, like electricity galvanizing a monster. Maggie hurried toward the porch, keeping her eyes on the muck and sand.

Mom and Aunt Wren had disappeared into the house, and when Maggie entered and shoved the wet hair from her eyes, she found the sisters, laughing and crying at the same time, embracing and rocking together and saying in bursts of emotion, "My God, you look just like Mom," and "I do? Then you do, too," and "Can you believe it, Min? Fifty. When did we get so old?"

The kitchen was plain — no fancy appliances, not even doors on the cupboards — but big, clean, and fragrant with yeasted bread and damp wood. A pendant lamp hung over a farm table. The copper pots above the stove echoed this single source of light and gave the room the warm hue of a polished penny.

A noisy penny. Rain pinged overhead, indicating a metal roof, and thunder rumbled. Behind the crying, laughing, roof tapping, and sky rumbling, something else added to the racket, a regular shattering from a distant corner of the cabin.

It was like standing inside a percussion instrument.

Aunt Wren pulled away from Mom and nodded at Maggie. She swiped her face with a red plaid sleeve. Then her face — heart-shaped, big-eyed, long-nosed, eerily like Mom's — softened. The sweetening of the expression prepared Maggie for something like a hug, so when the aunt abruptly turned and shouted over her shoulder, "Jesus Christ, Sam, will you give it a fucking rest? I've got company here," Maggie actually flinched. Her back hit the screen door. It swung open and banged shut.

The aunt flared her eyes and shook her head. "Sorry about Sam. He's mad and taking it out on the rejects." She made a swiping motion, as if explaining would be a waste of time.

Steadying herself with a hand on a chair, Mom untied her sneakers and introduced her daughter and sister. Then Maggie found her right hand captured and squeezed and patted like a ball of dough.

"I'm so glad you're here, Margaret." Over her shoulder, Aunt Wren said, "She's got our hair."

"And frame."

Aunt Wren raised the kneaded hand, as if to lengthen out Maggie and improve the view. She hummed agreement. "More hair and legs than anything."

"But her dad's brown eyes."

The aunt grunted. "Him." To Maggie, she said, "You can keep the Bambi eyes, but nothing else from that one, you hear?"

"Poor Jim. God — since high school! — you've had it out for poor Jim." Mom pulled a band from her pocket and drew her hair into a ponytail. "The nicest guy and the best of fathers."

Bor-ing, Aunt Wren silently mouthed, dragging a wry smile out of Maggie. "An accountant." She announced this flatly, as if the profession said it all. With a final squeeze and slap on the knuckles, she released Maggie. "What's first? Want to change into something dry? Are you tired?" She planted her hands on her narrow hips. "You've got bags under your eyes. A nap sound good? You can put on your pajamas. Or take a bath. Want to take a hot bath? Or eat? I made soup and bread. How about a tour? Want the ten-second grand tour? The best part's outside, but you brought a storm with you, so that'll have to wait." While Maggie was deciding which question to answer first, the aunt asked, "What do you think, Minerva?" Her mouth curled at a corner. "Goddess of wisdom. Patron sponsor of the arts." To Maggie, she said, "Minerva. Can you believe that shit? And here I'm the one with the artistic talent."

"Jeez," Mom moaned through a laugh. "Let's not start that up again."

The aunt collected the wet jackets and hung them by the door. "She got Minerva, and I got Wren — a common little brown bird."

"With a beautiful song."

As if Mom hadn't spoken, the aunt said to Maggie, "You can see from the start our folks weren't big on fairness."

Mom's smile wilted. She held a shoe in each hand. "That's not true."

"Says the favorite."

"According to you. For heaven's sake, it hasn't even been a year since they passed. Have a little respect."

"Respect would be hard."

"They didn't love me any more than they did you."

"Want some evidence to prove otherwise?"

"Oh, please."

But the evidence. Where's the evidence? Until the police release their statements ... Maggie shuddered, pressed her hands to her ears, and ordered herself, Don't.

Aunt Wren, poised to snap a retort, glanced at Maggie. She covered her mouth.

Mom gave the slightest shake of her head. "Show us around."

"Good idea. This way. Then you can wash up while I throw together a salad. We'll eat and get you to bed early."

The glimmer of the kitchen died in the gloom of the windowless hallway. Dazed, Maggie trailed her mother. The aunt led the way through the cabin, narrating as she went: "Note the wide-plank pine floors, all carefully preserved with the original dents and gouges" and "Even the paint on the walls is antique, totally authentic."

Maggie tried to focus on her surroundings. They trudged into the living room. Rippling gray and blinking whitecaps filled the windows. Back in the hallway, the aunt swung open a door. It was her bedroom. The woods stood close to this side of the cabin and threw its shade, like an extra blanket, over the small space. The bathroom came next. Mom oohed and aahed at the sight of the claw-foot tub and pedestal sink, then Aunt Wren nodded instructively at an opposite door in the hallway ("Linen closet"), a second door ("Studio"), and patted a bannister. Maggie looked up. The staircase was so narrow and steep, it hardly qualified as a staircase. More like a ladder.

"I've only got two bedrooms," Aunt Wren said, "one below and one above. You're up there, Margaret. In the loft."

Mom, determinedly chipper, said, "Wow. The whole second story — all yours."

"Go on," the aunt said. "Take a look. Watch your step. That one's cracked. Keep meaning to have Sam fix it. No, check the right side. Feel the switch?"

"Ouch." Maggie rubbed her head.

"Whoops. Sorry about that. You don't want to straighten there."

Maggie found the switch. And for the first time in a long while, she experienced a stirring of pleasure. The room was ... something else. She shuffled away from the light switch, half-bent until she got to the peaked portion.

The space spanned the length of the cabin and held the warm redolence peculiar to attics. Its wooden floors, whitewashed walls, and sparse furnishings — just a dresser, a bedside table, and, positioned under three abutted windows, a quilt-covered bed — were made homey by the pitched ceiling. The room was all roof, and it pinged softly. The rain must have let up.

The short wall to Maggie's right held drawers; the wall on the left, embedded shelves, crammed with novels. But the windows perfected the loft. The ones close to the staircase overlooked the trees, blackish green in the gray afternoon, except where early autumn streaked the canopy with ochre. The room was like a nest. No, grander: an aerie. She crossed to the windows over the bed, where the lake roiled. Now it was the lookout on the mast of a ship.

In her breast, she experienced a tightening — a flicker. Maybe she could do better than just hide here.

When she returned to where the women waited at the foot of the stairs, Maggie gripped the bannister and bit the inside of her lip to stop a tremble. "Thanks, Aunt Wren." She cleared her throat. "I like it."

* * *

The aunt cracked the studio door and stuck her head in the opening. "Sam? We're coming in, okay?" She sidled forward and held the door to her side, like one blocking a view into a dressing room.

"Fine." A wealth of not-being-fine crammed into the syllable.

The aunt hesitated. "Where's Kate?"

"With Dad."

Her fingers, curled around the edge of the door, fluttered a tap. "Linnie?" Clank, clatter, thud. "Take a good guess." A stomping crescendo. Then, closer to Aunt Wren: "Don't tell Dad, okay?"

She shrugged, noncommittal and disapproving, then widened the door with her foot. "Meet Sam, my assistant."

Mom cautiously greeted him.

He offered a dispirited "Hey."

Maggie drew herself in with crossed arms. She scanned the miserable Sam in one glance. He was maybe two or three years older than her and dark in expression and features.

He headed for a rumbling room off the end, saying without turning, "Got the pug mill going."

When Mom, smiling and wide-eyed, stood between the kiln and the potter's wheel, she clasped her hands under her chin and did a slow spin, like a Broadway actress gearing up for a solo. "This is so neat!"

Her aunt grimaced. "Filthy. It could use a mopping."

The studio, a stubby wing off the building, turned the cabin into a squat T. It was dusty but very bright, almost fantastically so, and not just because of the lighting overhead. If the kitchen was a penny, the studio was a silver dollar — kilns, wheels, giant roller, shelves, worktable, scale, tools, all in gleaming metal. Then stacked and crowded under and over a long counter were finished ceramic pieces, vibrantly glazed in combinations of dark blue, sea green, speckled cream, thick fog, ruby red. Maggie wanted to see the studio on a sunny day. It had to shimmer.

Mom crouched by a shelf of pots. "Oh, I like this one a lot." She grazed a teapot with a fingertip and straightened. "Where are your sculptures?" "Yes. Where are your sculptures?" The assistant was standing in the doorway of the noisy back room, swinging a kind of wire and eyeing his employer.

"Galleries, mostly."

Mom looked disappointed. "Nothing new?"

The aunt turned. "Not really." She lightly touched one of the dozen pots on the worktable — tall jars, still ragged at their bases with untrimmed clay.

"She's going through a functional phase." Sam's mouth quirked.

"Ha. There's an idea. That'd be a good phase for me."

The assistant nodded and sighed, glum again, then disappeared into the back room.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Unleaving"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Melissa Ostrom.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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