]In a reading slump?
Here’s this week’s Editor’s Choice, a YA contemporary, to help get you over the midweek hump!
A Sinking Star by Chrissy M. Dennis
About the Book
At 17 years old, Evie Boone just wants to survive high school and keep her sisters safe. When their broken mother returns home after disappearing for weeks, nothing Evie can do will keep the cops from messing with her plan to lay low. Worse, there’s nothing she can do to stop the father who walked out on her and her sisters nine years ago from opening his home to them.
As Evie wrestles to salvage her crumbling life, her father and his new family pursue Evie with a gentle love the likes of which she’s never known. Are they for real, or is it all an act? Can she ever go back to the life she knew before her mother’s arrest? And if she’s honest with herself, does she even want to anymore?
The car was gone.
It took every ounce of Evie’s energy to clamp down on her tongue and keep from screaming.
Maybe ordinary seventeen-year-olds wouldn’t think a missing car was a big deal. Why should anyone give it a second thought? But Evie was already on her third thought, her fourth thought, her fifth thought. With every new thought pushing its way in, her lungs seemed to lose their capacity for air. Her shallow breaths matched the quickening beat of her heart. Maybe the neighbors saw nothing out of the ordinary here, but in Evie’s world, missing cars meant trouble.
All she could do was stare at the blanched stones in the driveway that should have been sheltered from the sun by the car that wasn’t there. Maybe if she stared long enough, the car would magically reappear. Maybe if she blinked enough times, she’d find it right where it belonged.
Maybe her mom had run to the grocery store and would return any moment with a trunk full of food and ask how Evie’s day was.
As if Evie could imagine the problem away.
A weight like a cinder block crushed her chest.
The car was really gone.
That old piece of junk was too permanent a fixture in their driveway. When she was bored, Evie would stare out her front window and spy on neighbors as they passed her small house. She couldn’t read their lips or anything, but their gazes would fall on the dirty old car sitting there like a stump. Everyone on Laubach Avenue knew Dolores Hendricks, the divorcée with three daughters, walked half an hour to work—rain, snow, or sleet—even though she had a fully functional car whose only purpose was to slowly rust away to nothing.
But nobody knew why.
Maybe they pegged Evie’s mom as a health nut. Why would anyone drive when walking was good exercise? Maybe they made her out to be a hippie tree hugger. Exhaust fumes destroy the environment, don’t they? Or maybe they hypothesized that the car was for Evie, a graduation gift not to be touched until June. “What a great mom,” they’d croon.
Or maybe they’d guessed the truth.
The truth that 99 percent of the time, no force in human history could put Evie’s mom behind that wheel. The woman was too paranoid to drive.
But that 1 percent?
A shiver snaked down Evie’s spine. Not again.
Her temporary paralysis wearing off, she sprinted up the cracked path. Maybe she was wrong; maybe this was nothing like last time. Maybe her mom finally decided to sell the useless Buick. Maybe—
Evie skidded to a halt as though a glass wall had sprung out of the ground. Her mouth went dry. A missing car was one thing, but the front door of their house yawning wide open?
She’d seen it all before.
The missing car, the open door—they were threads to a pattern Evie wished she could deny. The clues spoke for themselves.
Inside, dresser drawers were bare. Wrinkled clothes were strewn all over the house. The car keys were gone, too, but the most obvious clue of all was her mother’s ugly gray suitcase missing from the hall closet.
Now was not a good time to panic.
Not panic? What a joke. It was way too late for that. Besides, whether she panicked or not, the ugly truth still hung like a thick smoke in her empty house.
Her mother had taken off.
* * * *
After Evie had collected her mother’s scattered clothes and tossed a load in the wash, she curled up on the scratchy sofa. The stink of it didn’t bother her anymore, not the way it did when she and her mother dragged it home after spotting it on the side of the road a few years ago. Some things you got used to with time.
But not everything.
Like moms walking out on their kids—how were you supposed to get used to that?
Evie curled herself tighter and wove her trembling fingers through her chestnut hair. This couldn’t be happening, not again. Her mom had promised. Maybe that was Evie’s problem—believing her mother actually meant it. Was that too much to ask? Shouldn’t a girl be able to trust her mother?
Evie narrowed her attention to focus on the one thing she could actually control—breathing. Where could her mother have gone? What on earth was Evie going to do next? It was all too much for a seventeen-year-old to figure out. She focused on the rise and fall of her chest. Breathe in, breathe out. It sounded crazy, but at least she could control something.
Maybe she was being a baby, but the truth was, she didn’t care. This was too much. She shouldn’t have to be dealing with this. Hundreds of ugly scenarios rolled around in her head. How would her mother cope without Evie to pick her up? And what about Evie and her sisters? Who would take care of them? All it would take was one nosy neighbor, and Social Services would get involved. Evie was nowhere near equipped to deal with that nightmare.
Evie sucked back a ragged breath. She had to calm down. Every new question doubled her heart rate. She couldn’t afford to lose it now. Any minute, Sammy and Lily would march through that front door. Evie would have to tell them what happened. This wasn’t something you could keep secret. Her sisters weren’t stupid. They’d notice the missing car, too, and they’d know what it meant.
Last time, Lily had bawled for hours. Who could blame her? Could a ten-year-old understand why her mother would ditch her, especially after promising never to do it again?
Evie was an expert on a mother’s empty promises. Even so, Evie, too, had fallen prey to believing maybe, just maybe, her mother meant it this time.
“Mom, how could you?”
No, she couldn’t do that, couldn’t venture down that path. Blaming her mother wasn’t an option in her corner of the universe. There were unwritten rules here, and all three Boone sisters knew them by heart.
Rule number one: Nothing is ever Mom’s fault. Even if it wasn’t fair.
The back door banged open, rattling Evie to her senses. Sammy.
There was no missing Sammy’s entrance. Everything about her screamed ferocity, from her clenched fists and tight lips all the way to her mascara and black nail polish.
Sammy’s thick black hair whipped across her shoulders. “I am so sick of that prison they keep us in all day. Can’t wait till I’m eighteen. Three and a half years to go.”
So Sammy hadn’t noticed the empty driveway. How would she, having relapsed into her old habit of coming through the back door? The neighbors constantly complained about her cutting through their backyards, but it only egged Sammy on.
“I’m not crushing their stupid roses or anything. Maybe I should.” That was the thing about Sammy. There was always something to hate on.
Today Sammy’s belligerence was the last thing on Evie’s mind. Seriously, if her sister’s attitude was all she had to deal with, Evie would embrace it with arms wide open.
Sammy hurled her backpack across the room. “If Meisner thinks I’m gonna sit around all night and waste time on math, he’s dumber than I thought.”
Evie closed her eyes and leaned back against the sofa. “Come on, Sam. School’s not all bad. At least you see Todd, right?”
Todd, the lucky guy who held the title of Sammy’s fourth boyfriend this semester.
“Quit trying to see the good in everything. It makes me wanna smash my head against a wall. Anyway, I’m outta here.” Sammy stomped toward the door.
“Wait. I—can you stick around until Lily gets home?” Evie asked.
Sammy arched her eyebrows. “Why would I do that?”
“I need to tell you guys something.” Evie sensed a fresh argument mounting and interjected before Sammy could open her mouth. “Humor me, please? It’s important.”
At that moment, Lily paraded through the door, belting out some off-key tune. Great. Why was Lily’s default always a good mood? The kid was so jazzed up, she must not have noticed the missing car. Lily’s positivity was a blinder. Evie’s news would crush her like a bug.
Tears threatened just beneath the surface, and her cheeks burned. It wasn’t fair. Lily’s innocent zest for life kept Evie going most days, but every time their mother pulled a stunt like this, Evie worried what it would cost her baby sister.
It had already cost Sammy and Evie their naivete. How long before Lily’s sunny disposition clouded? Would she become like Evie, always on the lookout for danger, or worse, like Sammy, whose stormy exterior sent everyone running for shelter?
Lily danced into the room, her chestnut pigtails bobbing. “Guess what! Jenny, Bonnie, and I are trying out for the talent show. We practiced after school, but Jenny doesn’t know the words to the song. She pretends she does, but she sodoesn’t. Bonnie wrote them out for her. Anyway, we’ll definitely get in. We can all sing. Like, when we were singing the chorus, we—”
“Shut up already.” Sammy turned to Evie. “Would you please get on with whatever you have to say. I’m not sticking around this loser if she’s gonna keep bragging.”
Lily’s lower lip stuck out. “Don’t tell me to shut up.”
“Guys, stop fighting. Sit down,” Evie said in a calm voice that contradicted the buzz inside her head.
Sammy huffed with her usual drama but resigned herself to dropping cross-legged to the floor. Lily crawled up and nestled under Evie’s arm, a dead giveaway she already sensed something was up.
“Guys—” Evie’s voice cracked. She coughed to murder any trace of emotion that would betray her chilled exterior. “Mom took off. Again.”
There they were—the cold, hard facts. It was unsettling, really, how only a few words could flip a whole world upside down. Only minutes before, Lily had been twirling around the living room, absorbed in her little realm of talent shows, pop music, and BFFs. Now her lip quivered as she stared at Evie with water glimmering in her dark brown eyes.
Evie gulped back the rock in her throat. Lily could cry, but not her. Someone had to be strong.
Sammy grumbled under her breath and let out a groan that echoed off the bare walls. It was no secret how much Sammy hated their mother. Her reaction wasn’t coming from left field.
A single tear snaked down Lily’s pale cheek. “Where did she go?”
Sammy smacked an open palm on the coffee table. “Don’t be an idiot. How are we supposed to know where she goes when she leaves us here to rot?”
Evie wrapped an arm around Lily. “Sammy, you’re not helping.”
“I’m being realistic. What good is it to feed her lies? It’s better if she knows how useless a mother she has.”
“Stop it!” Evie didn’t mean to yell. She couldn’t afford to get angry. She reeled in a deep breath. Nobody grated on her nerves more than Sammy, but Evie didn’t have the luxury of sibling rivalry. Someone had to be the grown-up. “Look, Sammy. I know this sucks. But yelling at Lily won’t solve anything.”
A painful silence passed, but Sammy finally nodded. She rolled her eyes, too, but at least she shut up. That was almost as shocking as the missing car.
“It’s going to be the three of us for a while, but we’ll be fine. We always are, right?” Evie snuggled Lily tight.
Lily sniffed. “When is she coming back?”
“I don’t know.”
“But what about Mommy’s job? They said if she keeps missing work, they’ll fire her.”
Triton’s Glove Factory was their mother’s third job this year. The last time she took off like this, she was gone three weeks. It was a huge stroke of luck her boss didn’t fire her on the spot. But Lily was right. They’d given her an ultimatum, clear and simple.
They were going to fire her.
For Lily’s sake, Evie tried to smile. “Maybe Mom won’t be gone long this time.”
As if she were an expert on her mother’s travel plans.
“But she promised,” Lily whispered into her sister’s shirt.
Empty promises. What else was new? Evie quit believing in promises ages ago, but Lily still clung to an unshakable faith in their mom. No wonder it crushed her little heart every time those promises were shattered.
Evie reached into every crevice of her mind for something comforting to say, but what could you say, really? No fluffy words could mend the wound a mother’s broken promise inflicted on a child’s heart.
“So you guys know what this means, right? With Mom gone, we have to fend for ourselves. We can’t let anybody know she’s gone,” Evie said.
Sammy growled. “Stop treating us like little kids. We get it. In case you forgot, we’ve done this before.”
“I know you’re not little kids, but we can’t mess this up. If Social Services catches wind Mom’s gone, you know what happens,” Evie said. Social Services would rip them out of their home without batting an eye. They’d be thrown into foster homes, probably not even together, and their mom… who would take care of her?
Bile rose in Evie’s throat. Social Services could not find out. Evie could not let it happen to her family.
Evie pressed her lips into her sister’s messy hair. “Nothing will happen as long as we’re careful. Don’t tell anyone, not even your friends. Or Todd. Nobody. Don’t get in trouble at school. The last thing we need is teachers calling and leaving messages for Mom.”
Sammy rolled her eyes. “Enough with the third degree already. I’m not an idiot.”
“She didn’t say you were an idiot,” Lily said.
Sammy lurched to her feet. “Are we done? Todd’s waiting.”
Lily gagged. “I don’t get why you like him so much. He smells.”
Sammy shrugged into her jacket. “Like you’re an expert on dating. Any other bombshells you wanna drop, Ev, or can I leave?”
Evie sighed. “See you later.”
Sammy stomped out of the house, yanking the door shut behind her. Knowing Sammy, Evie guessed they wouldn’t see her until breakfast. Sammy’s obsession with boys and partying was a real problem, but what could Evie do? Sammy was a brewing storm 95 percent of the time. Treading lightly was easier than addressing the problem.
Still, Evie didn’t have to agree with Sammy’s choices.
“I’m sorry, Evie,” Lily said.
“What do you have to be sorry about?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t have been excited about the talent show. If I knew Mommy was gone, I—”
“Hey. You didn’t know. Besides, you should be excited about your talent show.” Evie smoothed Lily’s hair out of her face.
Lily tugged at a loose thread on her jeans. “Do you think she’ll come back?”
“She always does, doesn’t she?” All these fake smiles were starting to hurt.
Her mom would return, but that carried a price as steep as her leaving. Evie was all too familiar with the nightmare that would swoop down on them. The pattern was predictable: Mom feels great. Mom takes off on a road trip, high as a kite. Mom’s good mood lasts for days, sometimes weeks. Mom’s mood changes. Mom comes home and crashes hard.
Evie had been living the cycle for almost ten years.
Her mother’s bad moods weren’t something Evie welcomed.
Whenever she came back and whatever nightmarish mood she’d be in, the daunting truth remained unchanged: it was up to Evie Boone to take care of her family.