My newest young adult novel is here! It's called Crawdad and it's a little hard to describe. It's a contemporary tale with a bit of magic. It's the story of Jamil, but it's also the story of Aisha, Angel, Desi, and Sebastian. Crawdad was inspired by my love of the diverse people and places across the South, by music, and by current, terrible events I see in the news. I made an inspiration Pinterest page for Crawdad if you want to see.
There's some difficult topics in the book that I haven't attempted to solve because it's not meant to be a preachy book and I obviously don't have all the answers. It's meant to be a hopeful book with an uplifting message while acknowledging some of the tough situations today's teens are up against. I hope you enjoy reading it. Here's a short sample from Jamil:
It wasn’t dark yet, but it was getting there and the mosquitoes buzzed around me pretty thick. The cicadas up high in the pines drowned out everything with their constant sawing screeching noise. I went right. I had to tell someone where I was headed. Missy wasn’t the hottest girl in our school, or even the smartest, but she was pretty darn close and she understood me. I had to hurry cause her mama was pretty strict about not letting me come over past seven on a school night.
I was on her doorstep in just a few minutes. The humidity was so high now just walking felt like going for a swim. I was glad when Missy’s mama let me into their air conditioned house.
“Is Missy here?” I asked, already knowing she was.
“She’s in her room. Why’d you bring all that stuff?” asked her mama, eyeballing my backpack.
“Um, I have a homework question I need to ask her,” I mumbled. It could happen, right? Like, would you turn in my homework while I’m gone?
“Pfft! Homework?” It was plain she didn’t believe me.
“OK, go on back, but keep that door open. And no trumpet! I’m watching my show.”
Some nights I’d play trumpet for Missy in her room, but I didn’t mean to tonight. I walked softly down the hall and peeked into her room. Missy was stretched out on her bed reading a book.
“Hey,” I whispered from the doorway. She looked up from her book.
“Hey,” she said. “I missed you.”
I sat down on the bed next to her, leaving my stuff on the floor. She let go of her book and sat up to give me a hug. I’d hugged a ton of people at the funeral, but none of them affected me the way she did. I could smell the flowery soap she’s just shampooed her damp hair with. She was a warm, safe place to fall into and I held her tight.
“You OK?” I heard her say before I let her go.
“Yeah, I think so.”
She pulled back and looked at me to make sure I was telling the truth.
“Audition is next week,” I said.
Missy, more than anyone after my mama, knew what trumpet meant to me.
“Will you be ready?” she asked.
“Gonna try. There’s something I gotta do first, but I think I can be back in time.”
“Be back? Where are you going?”
I had to think a minute how to explain it. I hadn’t told anyone about my dad yet.
“Before my mama died, she told me something,” I started off.
“You know how I always thought my daddy was dead?”
“Well, he’s not. He’s living in Charleston right now.”
“You mean South Carolina?”
“Yeah. And my mama ain’t my mama. She’s my aunt,” I added, shaking my head. I still couldn’t believe it.
“Wow,” said Missy, thinking it over.
“All this time my mama didn’t tell me ‘cause she didn’t want me to know.”
“Maybe she had a good reason?”
“Maybe, but I can’t think of any good ones. How could you keep that from somebody?”
Missy didn’t say nothing. She just twisted her lips a little the way she always did when she was thinking about stuff.
“It’s been driving me crazy ever since she told me. I can’t concentrate on nothing else, Missy. Not even trumpet,” I said.
Missy stayed quiet. She wasn’t like one of those girls who would talk your ear off about nail polish and stupid stuff. Or one of those people who just loved the sound of their own voice or couldn’t stand it being quiet. I liked that about her. She really listened.
“I’m gonna go find him,” I said, staring at my trumpet and the red and white strap she made in school colors for it.
“What? Like on the Internet?” she asked.
“No, in Charleston.”
“You're going to Charleston? South Carolina?” She gave me that I-think-you-crazy look.
“Yeah, I need to at least see him for myself,” I said.
“But how? You don’ have a car.”
“I’ll just hitch a ride with a trucker. Should only take a day or so to get there. I can make it back by audition.”
“Jamil, you should be practicing, not hitchhiking, especially not with some drugged up truck driver.” She was frowning now.
"It’ll be fine. I done it before. And I’ll practice on the trip,” I offered.
“Let’s try to find him on the Internet first. Lots of folks find missing family that way.”
“Something tells me he’s not on there, Missy. Besides, I need to see him in person, look him in the eye.”
“Why?” She truly didn’t understand and I didn’t know how to explain it to her.
“I just do.”
“Well then, wait until after audition. You don’t want to take the chance you’ll miss it,” she said.
“If I don’t do this now, I may as well not do to the audition. I’m not gonna be able to play any good until I get this taken care of. I know it. I just know it.”
“Now you’re just being hard headed,” said Missy, frowning.
“I guess I am, but I’m right on this. I know I am.”
Missy twisted her lips again.
“Then why’d you come here?” she asked.
“I wanted you to know where I’m going. I didn’t want you to worry about me.”
“Oh, I’ll worry all right. You got any money?”
“No, but I packed some food. I’ll get by,” I told her.
“You can’t go all the way to Charleston without no money, “she said, getting up off the bed. She crossed the room to her desk an opened a drawer. She pulled out some cash and offered it to me.
“What? I can’t take that,” I said.
“You can pay me back later. It’s only seventy-two dollars.” I shook my head no, but she wasn’t listening. “You’ll starve. Take it,” she insisted, shoving the money into my hands. “Maybe you should take my cell phone too.”
“I won’t have no way to charge it.” She frowned again, knowing I was right.
“OK, but you have to find a way to call me every day and let me know you’re okay.”
“I will,” I said, smiling. She was giving her blessing, which I think was what I might have wanted all along.
“I’m sure I can find somebody to loan me a phone,” I said, standing to stuff the cash into the pocket of my jeans.
Missy grabbed me in another urgent hug.
“Just so you know, I’m not OK with this,” she said into my chest. She might have been crying, but then, I might have been too.
“It’ll be all right,” were the words that came out of my mouth automatically. Does anyone ever believe those words when they say them? Probably not. It’s almost like a gut reaction. You have to say them.
“Get home as fast as you can,” she said.
I nodded before she pulled me into a kiss so sweet and warm I forgot all about leaving for a minute. At a time like this, her mom would usually barge in and ask what was going on, but not this time. Somehow I managed to get my head back on straight and pick up my stuff.
“I’ll be back by the nineteenth,” I said.
That was my last night in Theodore, Alabama for a while. I stepped out into the darkness and the heat and headed toward the highway.