Today we're excited to spotlight All the Little Lights by Jamie McGuire! Read on for more about Jamie and her book, plus an interview, excerpt, & giveaway!
Meet Jamie McGuire!
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Jamie McGuire comes a riveting tale of first love that starts young but runs deep.
The first time Elliott Youngblood spots Catherine Calhoun, he’s just a boy with a camera, and he’s never seen a sadder and more beautiful sight. Both Elliott and Catherine feel like outcasts, yet they find an easy friendship with each other. But when Catherine needs him most, Elliott is forced to leave town.
Elliott finally returns, but he and Catherine are now different people. He’s a star high school athlete, and she spends all her free time working at her mother’s mysterious bed-and-breakfast. Catherine hasn’t forgiven Elliott for abandoning her, but he’s determined to win back her friendship…and her heart.
Just when Catherine is ready to fully trust Elliott, he becomes the prime suspect in a local tragedy. Despite the town’s growing suspicions, Catherine clings to her love for Elliott. But a devastating secret that Catherine has buried could destroy whatever chance of happiness they have left.
A Chat with Jamie McGuire:
What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
I was blow drying my hair and thinking about book ideas, going through all the topics that intrigue me personally. The big reveal in the book is one of those topics. I wanted to write a fresh story set in a place I’m familiar with, so of course I chose my home state, Oklahoma. The First Nation aspect is because of the discrimination I witnessed of a high school friend who happens to be First Nation, and she helped me add Elliott’s perspective.
Who is your favorite character in the book?
Catherine. I envy her ability to keep all of that inside of her and still push forward. I process everything verbally, and it would be torture for me to not to tell anyone, but Catherine doesn’t feel like she has anyone to tell, and she also feels like she can’t without betraying someone she loves.
Which came first, the title or the novel?
The idea for the novel, but I named it before I started writing it. I typically form ideas two or more years before I can get to them.
What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
The final scene. It took great pains to write a novel that would actually surprise a reader, and especially now that I’ve seen early reviews, I feel I’ve achieved that.
Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
To only read reviews your publisher sends you!
What do you like most about the cover of the book?
The entire cover is beautiful, it’s unlike any of my previous covers, and the font in particular is brilliant. Montlake did an incredible job.
What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2018?
Both of mine! I haven’t released a novel in nearly two years because I had so much personally going on. I typically release 4-8 novels in a year, so these two have become a triumph for me; a symbol that I can get through anything and still push through.
What was your favorite book in 2017?
GET OVER YOUR DAMN SELF by Romi Neustadt
What’s up next for you?
I just completed book two of the Crash and Burn series, then I’ll finish edits of the Providence series so I can re-release them with new (amazing!) covers and bonus content, then finish another book I started last year before my book deals, book three of the Crash and Burn series, and then I’d like to begin a sequel for Red Hill. I’ll continue that trend of sequels after that, wrapping up some other previous books I’ve written. Maybe after that, I’ll sleep.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
If I’ve ever completed a novel and felt, “This is my masterpiece”, ALL THE LITTLE LIGHTS is it. It still has that McGuire angst and budding love, but it’s so different than anything else I’ve written.
Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
Probably when Catherine’s father dies. I knew what was in store for her after that, and I’ve lost my father, and four years ago, my grandfather who was a father figure to me. Living inside those emotions again were difficult.
Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book?
My latest book was book two in the Crash and Burn series, and I had no trouble with any characters, it was my brain. I suffered writer’s block for the first time in career, and it wasn’t fun. However, it’s the most fun I’ve had writing, the lead is a strong female, and I really enjoyed living inside her head the past six weeks.
Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
Revising. Then, the hard part is over!
What would you say is your superpower?
I make people feel deeply with things I write, man. That’s pretty cool.
Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
There are several. Wounded Warriors, foster families, Alzheimer’s Association, RAINN, and the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. I like to donate anonymously when I see a need as well.
Nine windows, two doors, a wraparound porch, and two balconies—that was just the face of our looming two-story Victorian on Juniper Street. The chipped blue paint and the dusty windows seemed to sing a violent song about the century of relentless summers and brutally cold winters the house had endured.
My eye twitched at the faintest tickle on my cheek, and in the next moment, my skin was on fire under my palm. I’d slapped the black insect crawling across my face. It had paused there to taste the sweat dripping from my hairline. Dad had always said I couldn’t hurt a fly, but watching the house watch me did strange things. Fear was a compelling beast.
The cicadas screeched from the heat, and I closed my eyes, trying to block out the noise. I hated the crying, the buzzing of insects, the sound of the earth drying under a triple-digit temperature. A tiny breeze blew through my yard, and a few strands of hair fell into my face while I stood with my navy-blue Wal-Mart brand backpack at my feet, my shoulders sore and raw from carrying it across town from the high school. I would have to go inside soon.
As hard as I tried to be brave, to talk myself into going inside to breathe the thick, dusty air and climb the stairs that would creak under my feet, a steady knocking from the backyard gave me an excuse not to pass through the double-wide, wooden door.
I followed the sound—something hard meeting something harder, an ax to wood, a hammer to bone—seeing a bronze-skinned boy come into view as I rounded the porch. He was pounding his bloody fist into the bark of our old oak tree, the trunk five times thicker than its assailant.
The oak’s sparse leaves weren’t enough to hide the boy from the sun, but he stood there anyway, his not-quite-long-enough T-shirt blotched with sweat. He was either dumb or dedicated, and when the intensity in his eyes chose to target me, I couldn’t look away.
My fingers pressed together to form a visor just above my forehead, blocking the sunlight enough to change the boy from a silhouette, bringing into view his round-framed glasses and his pronounced cheekbones. He seemed to give up on his plight, bending over to pick a camera off the ground. He stood, ducking his head under a thick, black strap. The contraption dangled from his neck when he dropped it, while his fingers fumbled through greasy, shoulder-length hair.
“Hi,” he said, the sun reflecting off his braces when he spoke.
Not the profoundness I was expecting from a boy who spent his time punching trees.
The grass tickled my toes as my flip-flops snapped against the soles of my feet. I took a few steps closer, wondering who he was and why he was standing in our yard. Just as something deep inside told me to run, I took another step. I’d goaded much scarier things.
My inquisitiveness almost always beat out reason, a trait my dad said would result in my fate being shared with the unfortunate feline whose story he told as a cautionary tale. Curiosity pushed me forward, but the boy didn’t move or speak, patiently waiting for the mystery to overwhelm my sense of self-preservation.
“Catherine!” Dad called.
The boy didn’t flinch. He squinted through the bright sunshine, quietly witnessing me freeze at the sound of my name.
I took a few steps backward, grabbing my backpack and running to the front porch.
“There’s a boy,” I said, panting, “in our backyard.”
Dad was wearing his usual white-collared button-up, slacks, and a loosened tie. His dark hair was gelled into place, and his tired but kind eyes looked down on me like I’d done something amazing—if completing one full year of the torture that was high school could be considered, he was right.
“A boy, huh?” Dad said, leaning over so he could pretend to look around the corner. “From school?”
“No, but I’ve seen him around the neighborhood before. It’s the boy who mows the lawns.”
“Oh,” Dad said, slipping my backpack off my shoulders. “That’s John and Leigh Youngblood’s nephew. Leigh said he stays with them during the summers. You’ve never talked to him before?”
I shook my head.
“Does that mean boys aren’t gross anymore? I can’t say I’m happy to hear that.”
“Dad, why is he in our backyard?”
Dad shrugged. “Is he tearing it up?”
I shook my head.
“Then I don’t care why he’s in our backyard, Catherine. The question is, why do you?” “Because he’s a stranger, and he’s on our property.”
Dad peeked over at me. “And he’s cute?”
I twisted my expression into disgust. “Ew. Dads aren’t supposed to ask things like that. And, no.”
Dad thumbed through the mail, a satisfied grin barely stretching against his five-o’clock shadow. “Just checking.”
I leaned back, peering down the stripe of grass between our house and the bare plot of dirt that used to belong to the Fentons before Mr. Fenton’s widow died and their kids had the house bulldozed. Mama said she was glad, because as bad as their house smelled from the outside, it had to have been worse on the inside, like something had died deep within.
“I was thinking,” Dad said, pulling open the screen door. “Maybe this weekend we can take the Buick for a spin.”
“Okay,” I said, wondering what he was getting at.
He twisted the knob and pushed open the door, gesturing for me to go in. “I thought you’d be excited. Don’t you get your learner’s permit soon?”
“So you mean I’m taking the Buick for a spin?”
“Why not?” he asked.
I walked past him into the foyer, letting my bag full of remnant supplies and notebooks from the school year fall to the floor.
“I guess I don’t see the point. It’s not like I’ll have a car to drive.”
“You can drive the Buick,” he said.
I looked out the window to see if the boy had moved on to assaulting trees in our front yard.
“But you drive the Buick.”
He made a face, already impatient with the arguing. “When I’m not driving the Buick. You need to learn to drive, Catherine. You’ll have a car eventually.”
“Okay, okay,” I said, conceding. “I just meant I’m not in a big hurry. We don’t have to do it this weekend. You know . . . if you’re busy.”
He kissed my hair. “Never too busy, Princess. We should clean up the kitchen and start dinner before Mama gets home from work.”
“Why are you home early?” I asked.
Dad playfully mussed my hair. “You are full of questions today. How was the last day of ninth grade? I’m guessing you don’t have homework. Any plans with Minka and Owen?”
I shook my head. “Mrs. Vowel asked that we read at least five books this summer. Minka is packing, and Owen is going to science camp.”
“Oh, right. Minka’s family have that summer home in Red River. I forgot. Well, you can hang out with Owen when he gets back.”
“Yeah.” I trailed off, not knowing what else to say. Sitting in front of Owen’s enormous flat- screen to watch him play the latest video game wasn’t my idea of a fun summer.
Minka and Owen had been my only friends since the first grade, when we were all labeled as weird. Minka’s carrottop and freckles earned her enough grief, but then she’d made the cheerleading squad in the sixth grade, and that provided her with some reprieve. Owen spent most days in front of the television playing Xbox and flicking his bangs out of his eyes, but his true passion was Minka. He would forever be her best friend, and we all pretended he wasn’t in love with her.
“Well, that won’t be a problem, will it?” Dad asked.
“The books,” Dad said.
“Oh,” I said, snapping back to the present. “No.”
He peered down at my backpack. “You’d better pick that up. Your mama will fuss at you if she trips over it again.”
“Depends on what kind of mood she’s in,” I replied under my breath. I grabbed the bag from the floor and held it to my chest. Dad was always saving me from Mama.
I looked up the stairs. The sun was pouring through the window that was at the end of the hall. Dust motes reflected in the light, making me feel like I needed to hold my breath. The air was stale and musty as usual, but the heat made it worse. A bead of sweat formed at the nape of my neck and streamed down, instantly absorbed by my cotton shirt.
The wooden stairs whined, even under the pressure of my 110-pound frame, as I climbed to the upper hallway and crossed straight to my bedroom, putting my bag on top of my twin-size bed.
“Is the air-conditioning out?” I asked, trotting down the stairs.
“No. Just turning it off when no one’s here to cut costs.”
“The air’s too hot to breathe.”
“I just turned it on. It’ll cool off soon.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “Your mama will be home in an hour. Let’s get a move on.”
I picked up an apple from the bowl on the table and took a bite, chewing as I watched Dad roll up his sleeves and turn on the sink water to scrub the day off his hands. He seemed to have a lot on his mind—more than usual.
“You okay, Dad?”
“What’s for dinner?” I asked, my question muffled by the apple in my mouth.
“You tell me.” I made a face, and he laughed. “My specialty. White bean chicken chili.” “It’s too hot for chili.”
“Okay, shredded pork tacos, then?”
“Don’t forget the corn,” I said, setting down the apple core before taking his place at the sink.
I filled the basin with warm water and soap, and while the water bubbled and steamed in the background, I made one sweep around the rooms on the main floor for dirty dishes. In the back drawing room, I peered out the window, searching for the boy. He was sitting next to the trunk of the oak tree, looking at the field behind our house through the lens of his camera.
I wondered how long he was planning to hang out in our backyard.
The boy paused and then turned to catch me watching him. He pointed his camera in my direction and snapped a picture, lowering it to stare at me again. I backed away, unsure if I was embarrassed or creeped out.
I returned to the kitchen with the dishes, put them in the sink with the rest, and began to scrub. The water sloshed on my shirt, and while the bubbles washed away the mess, Dad marinated the pork roast and put it in the oven.
“Too hot for chili in the Crock-Pot, but you’re okay with turning on the oven,” Dad teased. He tightened Mama’s apron around his waist; the yellow fabric with pink flowers matched the faded damask wallpaper that covered all the main rooms.
“You look dapper, Dad.”
He ignored my jab and opened the fridge, sweeping his arm in dramatic fashion. “I bought a pie.”
The refrigerator hummed in reaction, accustomed to the struggle of cooling its contents whenever the door opened. Like the house and everything in it, the fridge was twice as old as me. Dad said the dent at the bottom added character. The once-white doors were covered in magnets from places I’d never been and dirty splotches from stickers Mama had placed when she was a girl only to remove as an adult. That fridge reminded me of our family: despite appearances, the various parts worked together and never gave up.
“A pie?” I asked.
“To celebrate your last day of ninth grade.”
“That does call for celebration. Three whole months without Presley and the clones.”
Dad frowned. “The Brubakers’ girl still giving you trouble?”
“Presley hates me, Dad,” I said, scrubbing the plate in my hand. “She always has.”
“Oh, I remember a time when you were friends.”
“Everyone is friends in kindergarten,” I grumbled.
“What do you think happened?” he asked, closing the fridge.
I turned to him. The thought of recalling every step along the way that changed Presley and her decision to be friends with me did not sound appealing at all. “When did you buy the pie?” Dad blinked and fidgeted. “What, honey?”
“Did you get the day off?”
Dad sported his best painted-on smile, the kind that didn’t touch his eyes. He was trying to protect me from something he didn’t think my barely fifteen-year-old heart could handle.
My chest felt heavy. “They let you go.”
“It was time, kiddo. The price of oil has been down for months. I was just one layoff of seventy-two in my department. There will be more tomorrow.”
I looked down at the plate, half-submerged in the murky water. “You’re not just one of seventy-two.”
“We’ll be okay, Princess. I promise.”
I rinsed the suds off the plate in my hand, looking at the clock, realizing why Dad had been so preoccupied with the time. Mama would be home soon, and he would have to tell her. Dad always saved me from Mama, and as much as I tried to do the same for him, there was no way to soften her wrath this time.
We were just getting used to hearing Mama’s laughter again, to sitting down at dinner and discussing our days instead of what bills were due.
I placed the clean plate on the counter. “I believe you. You’ll find something.”
His big hand fell softly on my shoulder. “Of course I will. Finish the dishes and wipe down the counters, and then take out the trash for me, would ya?”
I nodded, leaning in to him when he kissed my cheek.
“Your hair’s getting longer. That’s good.”
I pulled at some of the tawny strands closest to my face with my wet fingertips. “Maybe a little.”
“Are you going to finally grow it out some?” he asked, hope in his voice.
“I know. You like it long.”
“Guilty,” he said, poking my side. “But you wear it the way you like. It’s your hair.”
The hands on the clock made me work faster, wondering why Dad wanted Mama to come home to a clean house and dinner on the table. Why make sure she’s in a good mood just to break bad news?
Until the past few months, Mama had been worrying about Dad’s job. Once a haven for retirees, our small town had been deteriorating around us—too many people and not enough jobs. The large oil refinery in the next city over had merged, and most of the offices had already been relocated to Texas.
“Are we going to move?” I asked, putting away the last of the pans. The thought lit a spark of hope in my chest.
Dad chuckled. “It takes money to move. This old house has been in Mama’s family since 1917. She might never forgive me if we sold it.”
“It’s okay if we have to sell it. It’s too big for us, anyway.”
“Don’t mention selling the house to your mama, okay? You’ll just upset her more.”
I nodded, wiping the countertops. We finished picking up the house in silence. Dad looked lost in his own thoughts, probably going over in his head how he would break the news. I left him alone, seeing that he was nervous. That made me worry, because he’d become a pro at calming her explosive outbursts, her nonsensical rants. He let it slip once that he’d been perfecting his strategies since high school.
When I was little, before bed at least once a week, Dad told me the story of how he fell in love with her. He asked her out the first week of ninth grade and defended her against the bullying she endured over her family’s smelter. The by-products had seeped into the soil and then the groundwater, and every time someone’s mom fell ill, every time someone was diagnosed with cancer, it was the Van Meters’ fault. Dad said that my grandfather was a cruel man, but he was the worst to Mama, so much that it was a relief when he died. He warned me to never speak of it in front of her and to be patient with what he called outbursts. I tried my best to ignore her outbursts and vicious remarks to Dad. The abuse she suffered was always in her eyes, even twenty years after Grandfather’s death.
The gravel in the driveway crunched under the tires of Mama’s Lexus, snapping me to the present. The driver side door was open, and she was bent over, retrieving something from the floorboards. I watched her search feverishly, holding trash bags in each of my hands.
I put the bags in the dumpster by the garage and closed the lid, wiping my hands on my denim shorts.
“How was your last day of ninth grade?” Mama asked, swinging her purse around her shoulder. “No more being the low man on the totem pole.” Her smile pushed up her rosy, full cheeks, but she barely navigated the gravel in her high heels, carefully walking toward the front gate. She was holding a small bag from the pharmacy that had already been opened.
“I’m glad it’s over,” I said.
“Aw, it wasn’t that bad, was it?”
She gripped her keys in her hand, kissed my cheek, and then stopped short of the porch. A runner in her pantyhose climbed from her knee to under her skirt, and one dark spiral of hair had fallen from her high bun to hang in her face.
“How . . . how was your day?” I asked.
Mama had worked in the drive-through of First Bank since she was nineteen. Her commute was only about twenty minutes, and she enjoyed using that time to wind down, but the best thing Mama had ever called the other two women she worked with was condescending skags. The small drive-through building was detached from the main bank, and working day in and day out in that tiny space made whatever problems the women had seem much bigger.
The longer she worked there, the more pills she needed. The open bag in her hand was a sure sign she’d already had a bad day, even if it was just because she remembered her life wasn’t panning out the way she’d planned. Mama had a habit of focusing on the negative. She tried to be different. Books like Finding Contentment and Processing Anger the Healthy Way made up most of our library shelves. Mama meditated and took long baths listening to soothing music, but it didn’t take much for her anger to surface. Her rage was always simmering, building, waiting for something or someone to create an escape.
She jutted out her bottom lip and blew the loose curl away. “Your dad is home.” “I know.”
She didn’t take her eyes from the door. “Why?”
“Oh God. Oh no.” She rushed up the stairs and yanked open the screen door, letting it slam behind her.
At first I couldn’t hear them, but it didn’t take long for Mama’s panicked cries to filter through the walls. I stood in the front yard, listening to the yelling get louder as Dad tried to reassure his wife, but she wasn’t having it. She lived in the world of what-ifs, and Dad insisted on the right now.
I closed my eyes and held my breath, hoping at any moment the silhouettes in the window would collide and Dad would hold Mama while she cried until she wasn’t scared anymore.
I looked up at our house, the lattice covered in dead vines, the railing wrapping around the porch in need of a new coat of paint. The window screens were choked with dust, and the boards in the porch needed replacing. The outside only looked more ominous as the sun moved across the sky. Our home was the biggest on the block—one of the largest in town—and created its own shadow. It had been Mama’s house and her mother’s before her, but it never felt like home. There were too many rooms and too much space to fill with echoes and angry whispers my parents didn’t want me to hear.
Moments like this, I missed the hushed rage. Now it was spilling out into the street.
Mama was still pacing, and Dad was still standing next to the table, pleading with her to listen. They yelled while the shadows from the shade trees moved across the yard until the sun was hovering just above the horizon. The crickets began to chirp, signaling sunset wasn’t far away. My stomach growled as I picked at the grass—I’d resorted to sitting on our uneven sidewalk, still warm from the summer sun. The sky was splotched in pinks and purples, and the sprinklers hissed and sprayed our yard, but the war didn’t seem like it would end anytime soon.
Juniper Street was only busy with cars trying to avoid after-school traffic. After everyone had clocked out and reached home, we were back to being the quiet edge of town.
I heard a click and a winding sound behind me and turned. The boy with the camera was standing on the opposite side of the road, his odd contraption still in his hand. He lifted it one more time and snapped another photo, pointing it in my direction.
“You could at least pretend not to be taking pictures of me,” I snarled.
“Why would I do that?”
“Because taking pictures of a stranger without her permission is a creepy thing to do.”
I looked around, offended by his question. “Everyone. Everyone says.”
He placed the cap on his lens and then stepped off the curb into the street. “Well, everyone didn’t see what I just saw through my lens, and it was anything but creepy.”
I glared at him, trying to decide if he’d just complimented me or not. While my arms remained crossed, my expression softened. “My dad said you’re Miss Leigh’s nephew?” He nodded, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his shiny nose.
I glanced back at the parent-size shapes in my window and then back at the boy. “Are you here for the summer?”
He nodded again.
“Do you speak?” I seethed.
He grinned, amused. “Why are you so angry?”
“I don’t know,” I snapped, closing my eyes again. I took a deep breath and then peeked from under my lashes. “Don’t you get mad?”
He shifted. “Just like everyone else, I guess.” He nodded toward my house. “Why are they yelling?”
“My, um . . . my dad lost his job today.”
“Does he work for the oil company?” he asked.
“So did my uncle . . . until today,” he said. He suddenly looked vulnerable. “Don’t tell anyone.”
“I can keep a secret.” I stood, brushing off my shorts. When he didn’t say anything, I begrudgingly offered my name. “I’m Catherine.”
“I know. I’m Elliott. Want to walk down to Braum’s with me for an ice cream cone?”
He was half a head taller than me, but by the looks of it, we weighed the same. His arms and legs were too long and skinny, and he hadn’t quite grown into his ears. His high cheekbones protruded enough to make his cheeks appear sunken, and his long, stringy hair didn’t help the appearance of his oval face.
He stepped across the cracked asphalt, and I pushed through the gate, glancing over my shoulder. The house was still watching me, and it would wait for me to come back.
All the Little Lights
By: Jamie McGuire
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Five winners will receive a copy of All the Little Lights (US only).