Emerson's life is in pieces at the opening of this novel. Can her friends help her re-build?

29/07/19 | By Chris Bell

Holding on and Letting Go book coverHere's the opening chapter from K.A. Coleman's YA novel Holding On and Letting Go


Some girls dream of their wedding: the perfect dress, the perfect husband, and the perfect dance. I guess I was shortsighted because I‘d never thought about it that much growing up. Even as a seven-year-old, my dream was more realistic: high school. I knew I would get to high school someday, and the plan didn’t hinge on Prince Charming proposing to me. I couldn’t wait to be a high school student. In my head, I had all of these plans. I would take a photography class, run varsity track, learn a new language, build my friendships, volunteer, and run for Student Council. I knew exactly who I would be, and I was excited to become that person. That saying about the best-laid plans going awry? I think Steinbeck was underestimating how screwed up plans could become. My plans? They shriveled up and died.

As I sat in my older brother’s car waiting for him to drive me to the high school that had once been my dream, I glanced in the mirror. My blonde hair was pulled back into a messy bun. Not a strategically messy bun that is actually well planned with the right amount of mess, but an actually messy bun because I just didn’t give a crap about my hair. It didn’t really matter. The blue eyes that stared back at me were dull. I used to love my eyes, but it’s really hard to like your eyes when you hate the person staring back at you. I looked away from the mirror. I had seen enough for today.

My brother swung open the car door and glanced down at me skeptically. “Are you sure you want to wear that today?”

“I checked the handbook; there isn’t a rule about skirt length,” I replied while I eyed my severely short skirt wearily. The electric blue skirt served a purpose. If people were staring at my legs, maybe I could get through the day without anyone paying attention to anything else about me.

“Just checking,” Brad remarked as he buckled his seatbelt.

I could have easily walked to school or driven my own car. The high school was only a few blocks from our house, but I didn’t want to rain on my brother’s guardian parade. Plus, I knew he just wanted to make sure I got to school, and there wouldn’t be many chances for him to drive me. Recently, he had begun his residency in anesthesiology at a hospital in our town. Those hours would keep him busy, and I appreciated that he specifically applied to programs just around where we lived so that I could live with him. My older brother was certainly the best thing about the situation.

“Are you ready, Em?” Brad asked, interrupting my thoughts.

“Well, basically we bought out the school supply store last night, so I think that’s as ready as I can be.” I didn’t really do well answering serious questions. If I could deflect with sarcasm, I deflected. It was easier that way

“You know what I meant,” he chided. Of course, I knew what he meant. Was I ready to see classmates who may or may not remember me? Was I ready to deal with questions about my two long years stuck in France with parents whom I actively hated? Was I ready to get the looks of sympathy from those who did remember why I landed in France in the first place? I didn’t think I would ever be ready to deal with those things, but “being ready” had nothing to do with having to do it. With a big breath, I answered my older brother honestly this time.

“I know I’m ahead academically, so switching in shouldn’t be a problem. As for everything else, I’ll just deal with it as it comes.” I tried to sound more sure of myself than I was when I answered. There was no need for two of us to be nervous; my stomach was knotted enough for two anyway. As my brother pulled into the parking lot that I had once dreamed of, it seemed silly that I would have set my sights on something so ridiculously dumb. What I should have been worried about was right under my nose the entire time, and I hadn’t noticed it. I should have noticed it. I really should have noticed it.

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