In the long, hot Illinois summer of 1973, insecure, motherless Jamie falls under the dangerous spell of her older, more worldly cousin Fawn, who’s come to stay with Jamie and her uncle as penance for committing an “unmentionable act.”
It is a time of awakenings and corruptions, of tragedy and loss, as Jamie slowly discovers the extent to which Fawn will use anything and anyone to further her own ends—and recognizes, perhaps too late, her own complicity in the disaster that takes shape around them.
“A captivating story about a teenager’s struggle to be accepted by her peers. . . . The story is more than believable—it simply comes alive. The book perfectly captures the free-spirited attitude of the decade and the curiosity of adolescence.”—Tampa Tribune
“McLain compels as she excavates two tragedies.” —Chicago Sun-Times
About the Author
Paula McLain received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan, and has been a resident of Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. She is the author of two collections of poetry, two novels, and a memoir, and lives in Cleveland with her family.
Read an Excerpt
A Ticket to Ride
Will It Go Round in Circles
O'Hare International Airport was a little like a hospital: glaring linoleum, long hallways leading to other hallways, suspended white lights that seemed to shiver when I looked at them. Everywhere, people walked purposefully between points on a graph, pulling behind them stacked luggage sets or children, their faces hardening and sealing off like drying cement. Watching them, I felt as if I had never been anywhere or done anything worthy or daring or desperate enough. I wanted a destination and something or someone waiting there, holding wilting daisies or a piece of cardboard with my name on it; but we had come for Fawn—Uncle Raymond and myself—to collect this cousin, this stranger. I didn't even own proper luggage, and Fawn was flying at that moment, buckled into a seat I imagined as static, a soft L shape that hung still while all of Illinois rushed toward it.
If nothing else, the girl had a fabulous name—Fawn Delacorte—round and silver as a serving spoon in a velvet-lined drawer. I had been saying it to myself for weeks, practicing it like a slogan or equation, a word problem. When Raymond told me that Fawn would be staying with us for the summer, he didn't elaborate on the reasons. According to Fawn's mother, Camille, the girl was at loose ends. Raymond knew I would be too, with school just let out and him working all day, so why not a companion? But why Fawn would voluntarily leave home to come to Illinois for three months, I found puzzling. A vacation spot or camp, sure, but Moline? And to relatives she had never met? It was a curioussituation, but since I didn't feel I could press Raymond to reveal more, I tried to focus on the windfall aspect of it. I would have a friend right there in the house for the whole summer. Days and days simply waiting to be filled, like the seats Raymond and I walked past on the way to Fawn's gate.
When we arrived, the plane still hadn't landed, so Raymond left me leaning against a wall-length window and walked off to make a phone call. I watched the black announcement board that said "Phoenix 469" for some minutes, but no change seemed imminent, so I gazed out at planes lumbering along the runway instead, their tiny front wheels looking underscaled and overburdened. At some arbitrary point they began to move faster and faster and then rose incongruously into the air the way seagulls did, or objects being levitated. Nosing up and up, they arched into back bends or twisted sheerly to one side. Impossible. I watched takeoff after takeoff, thinking with each that this would be the time the bottom dropped out or the wings snapped clean off, like a mishandled model. But nothing terrible happened, at least not while I stood there.
Who were all these people and where were they going? When they peered out their oval windows, could they see houses and cars and people? Could they see me squinting to see the vanishing last of them? Or were they too busy, too impatient to be there already, wherever there was, like the people who hurried by me on the carpeted concourse, not talking unless they could also be moving: shifting a carry-on bag strap from shoulder to shoulder, digging for dimes for the phone, speeding up to board the moving walkway which counseled, in an electronic bug voice, care in exiting.
Beyond the walkway there was a circular bank of phones where Raymond stood with his back turned, conducting business or pleasure or listening to the weather lady repeat the daily forecast for all I knew. Since I'd come to live with Raymond in November, much of his life—or his person, rather—remained a mystery to me. When I went to school, he went to work. He came home dusty, showered, and then drank one beer while he made dinner, with the kitchen radio tuned to a station that played Three Dog Night and Roberta Flack. In the evenings, he read Time/Life books about the Civil War while I watched Ironside or Mannix on the nineteen-inch black-and-white set in the living room. Then we went to bed, Raymond to his room at the back of the house, I to the makeshift, itchy green sofa in the living room where I'd watch a large carnivorous fish named Felix move back and forth in his tank, his mossy gills pushing mossy water in and out, in and out. The small house always seemed to double in size after Raymond turned in. It filled up with shadows the way Felix's body filled with water; the way my own body filled up with a longing I couldn't even name. Night stretched effortlessly in every direction. Was Raymond already asleep? Was the whole world sleeping?
Things were worse on weekend nights when Raymond went out, sometimes after a hushed phone call that he took in his room, sometimes prompted by his friend Ben at the door with a six-pack of Old Style beer. "Be good," he'd tell me on these nights, but nothing more. I didn't know where he went or what he did once there. I supposed he had a girlfriend or several, but he'd not yet had anyone over to the house. After he left, I'd turn up the volume on the TV, line the coffee table with magazines and paperbacks, fill a glass with too-sweet lemonade, all to convince myself I had plenty to do to occupy myself, but in fact the TV was just a timekeeper. McCloud then McMillan & Wife then Night Gallery as I waited for Raymond to come home. But even when he did and I was still awake, he'd just stand at the lip of the living room for a moment or two, his body rocking lightly to some private rhythm—a song he'd heard . . .A Ticket to Ride
A Novel. Copyright © by Paula McLain. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. <%END%>
What People are Saying About This
“...a haunting coming-of-age story...sun-dazzled prose that hides a cold, foreboding underbelly...gorgeous writing.”
“...[A] beautifully written book...deeply felt and engrossingan immense pleasure to read.”
“Filled with mystery and longing, McLain lays bare the raw emotion that guides us all...”
“[McLain’s] writing is gorgeous, and Jamie and Fawn are heartbreakingly real.”
“Absorbing, tantalizing, and super-heated as an endless summer day.”
“...a vivid portrait of the summer of ‘73...the relationships it expores are timeless...a genuine literary accomplishment.”
“Assured and ambitious... the complicated bonds of a makeshift family... lyrical precision. A deft and haunting book.”
Reading Group Guide
READER'S GROUP GUIDE for A TICKET TO RIDE By Paula McLain
1. The relationship between Jamie and Fawn is an intense one, eclipsing all the other relationships in Jamie's life, past and present. What emotional forces bring Jamie and Fawn together? How does Jamie benefit from the friendship? How does Fawn?
2. What does A Ticket to Ride seem to be saying about the nature of adolescent friendships? Are the forces at work in Jamie and Fawn's relationship particular to them, their characters or personalities, or do you think there's a universal quality in their attachment?
4. Although Fawn isn't always a likeable character, are there moments in the book when you identify with her or sympathize with her? Why or why not?
6. In ways, Claudia is Fawn's opposite, offering Jamie real friendship and trustworthiness. Why, then, does Jamie choose Fawn over Claudia? What's at stake in that choice?
9. The principal narrative in the book takes place over the course of a single summer. How does the season itself influence or shape the course of events? Is it possible to say that summer itself becomes a character in the book? How so?
10. When Raymond comes to rescue the girls in Chicago, his concern for their well being seems to wake him up in a way, and he becomes more available, more knowable to Jamie. Why might that be? What's changed?
11. Claudia's disappearance is a keystone moment in Jamie and Fawn's relationship. In what ways do Fawn and Jamie betray Claudia? Sacrifice her?
15. How do you see Jamie and Raymond as complicit in the tragedies that befall them and the people they most care about?
18. The epigraph of the novel from the song"She's Not There" seems to reference, among other things, an element of absence or vanishing in both storylines. How does the lyric apply to the character of Fawn? What about Suzette?
19. At the end of the book, Jamie says she feels as if she's beginning her life again. What might this mean, literally and metaphorically? Is there a way we could see this moment as a new beginning for Raymond as well? How so?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I happened upon this book while browsing in the store & I am so thrilled that I did. I wasn't disappointed in the least. Except that it ended too soon.
I found Paula McLain¿s ¿A Ticket to Ride¿ a great discovery, rich in detail and characterization and beautifully written. The central two relationships are intricate and compelling, and we are jarred into self-knowledge through seeing characters act in ways to which we can all too easily relate. Plus, McLain has a poet¿s touch with a phrase, and for anyone who loves language, her imagery is sheer pleasure: ¿It was August. For years it was August.... wilting patio chairs... Dry grass scratched unreadable names into the back of our thighs... a molting feather pillow... rich housewives walking sneezing Pomeranians... Fawn had this effect on all males, no matter the species, as if she were a kind of a virus, or emitted a signal at a male-specific register.¿ And there¿s McLain¿s seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of music and period detail and the sometimes surprising: ¿...the BBs from his Daisy rifle raining down on the green water, skittering then sinking fast.¿ McLain draws us in with her total command of her material, the power of her story, and the richness of her language. Highly recommended.
Beautifully written, with a super evocative sense of the times--early 70's mainly but also scenes in the mid 60's. I also thought the author really captured that intense first friendship dynamic perfectly. The characters were fresh and individual and the story had a great blend of plot, detail, and lyricism. Highly recommended!
Good book based on a teenager's life in early 1970's and the really bad choices she makes. Would be a good cautionary tale for older teens.
Kudos for Ticket to Ride! Adolescence is a time when vulnerability is at its peak - and this is the time McLain's book explores. Every reader will harken back to those fragile times as they read the story of Jamie and Fawn, and their tragedy of wrong choices. And many will dredge up memories, as I did, of close calls from bad judgments. And yet, the book is not a 'teenager' book. The parallel story of Uncle Raymond and his dedication to his sister shows a depth of character complexity that puts it on a level with the best in literary fiction. The writing in Ticket to Ride is unusually good - evocative, poetic, but right on target. And I loved the way the suspense built toward the end. I was absolutely shaking with anxiety over the outcome until the last few sentences.