Today we're excited to spotlight The Confusion Of Laurel Graham by Adrienne Kisner.
Read on for more about Adrienne and her book, an excerpt, plus an giveaway!
Meet Adrienne Kisner!
Adrienne Kisner has lived her entire “adult” life in a college dormitory working in both Residence Life and college chaplaincy. (She prefers the term “dormitory” over “residence hall.” Don’t @ her.) She went to school for a long time so that now she gets to swoop around in a fancy robe and silly hat (like at Hogwarts). She also has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts (a place like Hogwarts). Adrienne is a birder and knitter with more heart and enthusiasm than actual skill. Her debut novel DEAR RACHEL MADDOW won a 2016 PEN New England Susan P Bloom Discovery Award and was one of YALSA’s 2019 picks for Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her second novel, THE CONFUSION OF LAUREL GRAHAM, will be released in June of 2019. Book three, SIX ANGRY GIRLS, is due out in the spring of 2020. She loves her current home in Boston but will always be a Pennsylvanian at heart.
Meet The Confusion Of Laurel Graham!
A teen copes with her grandmother's coma by becoming obsessed with a mystery bird that she cannot identify in this sharp and poignant YA novel.
Seventeen-year-old Laurel Graham has a singular, all-consuming ambition in this life: become the most renown nature photographer and birder in the world. The first step to birding domination is to win the junior nature photographer contest run by prominent Fauna magazine. Winning runs in her blood—her beloved activist and nature-loving grandmother placed when she was a girl.
One day Gran drags Laurel out on a birding expedition where the pair hear a mysterious call that even Gran can’t identify. The pair vow to find out what it is together, but soon after, Gran is involved in a horrible car accident.
Now that Gran is in a coma, so much of Laurel's world is rocked. Her gran's house is being sold, developers are coming in to destroy the nature sanctuary she treasures, and she still can't seem to identify the mystery bird.
Laurel’s confusion isn’t just a group of warblers—it’s about what means the most to her, and what she’s willing to do to fight to save it. Maybe--just maybe-if she can find the mystery bird, it will save her gran, the conservatory land, and herself.
~ Excerpt ~
Field Journal Entry
Mom was crying in the kitchen.
Must be Thursday, I thought.
“Want some toast? It’s crunchy and delicious!” I said out loud. Sometimes I could lift Mom out of a funk by the sheer force of relentless optimism.
Mom shook her head, two tears skiing down the hills of her cheeks until they collided on her chin.
Aaaaand sometimes I couldn’t.
I pulled out the bread drawer from our ancient kitchen counter. I slid back the metal top and grabbed two pieces of wheat. With enough melted butter Mom would eat the toast if I put it in front of her. Not even the Drama Queen could resist salted dairy products.
“Chad and I broke up last night,” she said.
Further confirmation that it was, in fact, Thursday. The break-ups always seemed to come mid-week.
“Sorry,” I said. I patted her shoulder sympathetically. I could hardly keep Mom’s boyfriends straight. Chad was a tool, that much I knew. He was skinny, bald, and was obsessed with hunting. He wasn’t mean to Mom or me. But even after months of seeing Mom, he had still called me Lauren instead of Laurel.
“I just thought he was the one,” she said.
“Why?” I asked. Toast popped out of fiery little slots. I stabbed a knife through the charred tops and flicked breakfast onto a plate.
Mom sniffed. “He just made me feel good.”
I stifled the urge to laugh or roll my eyes. She said that about all of the guys who trolled through the house.
Chet. Mark. Ethan? No—Edgar. Chad. Brad.
That last one had walked me to my first day of kindergarten and kept on walking. He sent me cards on Christmas and my birthday and invited me to stay every summer. I’ve thought about going, but I knew it would be like a punch to Mom’s throat.
Many things were like that, though, on a long enough time line.
A punch to Mom’s throat.
Sometimes changing the subject worked to cheer her up.
“I know you worked late last night, so I didn’t get a chance to tell you! Gran and I saw a white-winged tern! It’s pretty rare around here! I haven’t had a new one on my life list in months! He was black and white and perfect all over!” Feel the magic, Mom, I thought at her. Breathe in my exclamations of pure bird-induced joy.
Mom blew her nose into a napkin. She inhaled sharply, a sure sign that clouds gathered and tears would soon rain again. I sighed inwardly. There was no winning back her mood today.
I debated my options. Stay here, or use an acceptable excuse to break free of the kitchen soap opera.
I decided on option two. It was an extraordinary spring day, and I should live the f**k out of it. Maybe some of my positivity might filter through the air to Mom somehow.
“I want to check in with Gran before co-op. Hang in there. You are beautiful and I love you,” I said to Mom. I backed out of the kitchen as fast as possible and grabbed my backpack. I biked to Gran’s cottage on the edge of the woods. I found her in the little garden behind her house. Most of the fruits and vegetables were starting to sprout and bloom and peek out from their winter sleep.
“Laurel,” said Gran. “To what do I owe the early morning visit?”
“Mom broke up with Chad.”
“I thought his name was Brad.”
“No that was the last guy. I think. This one was definitely Chad.”
“Ah, I see. Did we like this one?” she asked.
“Nope, not even a little,” I said. “But she wasn’t going to be cheered up so I thought I’d come over here. Just to. Um. You know.”
Just to go to the one place where I felt really at home. Gran smiled, as if she knew what I was thinking.
“See the tern again yesterday?” I asked.
“Nope. He left. Louise was so mad. She says it doesn’t really count if I didn’t see him where he lives, but whatever. I’m now fourteen birds ahead of her. Bitter birders are the worst.” Gran chuckled. “Get any new shots?”
“Nope. The art left too,” I said.
“Hang in there sweetheart. It’ll come.”
“Maybe I should branch out,” I said. “I only ever do around here.”
Gran considered this. “Maybe. There are a lot of state parks around here. But don’t underestimate what’s right under your nose. Your pictures of the pond at dusk and dawn are some of the best I’ve ever seen.” Gran said.
I believed she felt that way. Twelve of my pond pictures hung around her small cabin. She said she paid less in heating bills because all my framed pictures served as insulation.
“But I’ve done it all! The trees! The water! The flowers! Your garden, even.”
“Try more animals. Or the birds, then.”
“Birds stay in one place for a second. All I get is a blurry mess,” I said. “The movement of their wings is so freaking fast.”
“True. But keep trying. These kind of things are much about patience. And maybe a little luck or magic.” Gran winked at me. She got up and dusted off her dirty jeans. “Help me bring my stuff to the storage bench.”
“Maybe I could . . .” I started, but was interrupted by a shrill call from one of Gran’s trees. I looked up but couldn’t see anything. “What was that?” I asked. The blank look on Gran’s face seemed to show that she didn’t know either.
The call erupted again. Two short, high-pitched bursts and a longer, more melancholy song.
“I’ve never head that one before,” I said, excitement blossoming in the tips of my toes. It spread like wildfire through my body. Two new birds in one week! I f**king loved spring.
“Me either,” Gran said. She looked like a kid on Christmas. “Laurel, we have to find him. Maybe it’s a pet that got out. Or maybe it’s a second rare find! Louise is going to hate me. Let me get my binos!”
Gran ran into the house to find her high-power binoculars. I dug my camera out of my bag and aimed it towards the tree, hoping to snap an image I could enlarge. I didn’t have my best lenses, as they made my camera harder to transport, but I did what I could. Gran emerged from the house and shoved a pair of binoculars into my hands. “You are going to be late for co-op, so hurry. Go to the other side of the trees.”
I did as instructed and saw a few sparrows and a dove. The call echoed above my head, until it moved further into the forest. Gran came up beside me and we stood for minutes in the silence.
“The one that got away,” I said. The wildfire of excitement slid down my legs and slunk back into my feat, barely more than a spark now.
“Today.” Gran nodded. “But there’s always tomorrow.”
“Yes!” I said. “And you need to text me if you hear it again. I’ll play hooky for this one.”
“You’ll do no such thing.” But she shot me a mischievous grin. “Of course I’ll text you,” she whispered.
Good ol’ Gran. She knew my heart like no one else. Even if Dad had left and Mom seemed to barely remember she had a kid half the time, Gran was my constant in this world.
“Promise you won’t try too hard to see it without me,” I said. “I know how you feel about Louise’s competition.”
“Pfft. Please. Louise barely knows her binos from her butt. And you know I’ll always wait for you, Laurel. Now go to co-op before Jerry tells the truancy office to cart me off to the pokey,” she said.
“That’s not even a thing.”
She shooed me out of her yard towards my bike. “Don’t argue with your elders,” she said.
Hours later, the sky darkened and the rumble of an approaching storm kept distracting me from the unschoolers identify different specifies of fungi. Soon the weather caught up with us, and within minutes increasingly dramatic gray sheets of rain filtered through my shoes and socks until I decided enough was enough. I hustled my restless group of poncho’d children back to their parents.
“Any word from the mystery bird?” I texted Gran from inside the Nature Center.
“Do you work,” she replied.
That had to mean no.
I dripped into the Nature Center office after lunch.
“Don’t drip on the new posters,” said Jerry.
“Glad to see you are feeling better, boss,” I said.
“I mean it. Dry off before you laminate them.”
“Yes sir. Oh, Risa asked you to sign her hours sheet. It’s on your desk”
“Saw it. Go dry off.” Jerry was all business, all of the time.
No one came for a bird walk and talk, or tree tour, or our afternoon Fungi with a Fun Guy program because of the weather. I sometimes wondered if that last one was because everyone knew Jerry was a grumpy mushroom expert at best, and that our advertising threw off spores of lies. But the weather made the most sense.
“Maybe next week,” I tried to console him.
I stood on the small porch of the nature center watching the angry clouds. I glanced at my ride chained to the covered bike rack. But then my phone buzzed.
“Car is in your lot. Dropped it off for you. Got a ride with neighbor Stella. You’re welcome.”
Okay, maybe Mom could be pretty cool.
“I’m going out with Chad tonight for closure. Leftovers in fridge.”
I almost wished I had taken the bike path home anyway. The road back to my house from the pond snaked around the mountainside. I crept along at about twenty miles an hour, noting how there was really only a narrow silver guardrail between a precipitous drop and me. Or, at least I was pretty sure the guardrail was still there. It was hard to see through the near horizontal waves of drops assaulting Mom’s vehicle.
Halfway home the dreary canopy parted a little, and sunlight peeked through. It was still raining and slick, though. I rounded the bend where the hillside hiking trail followed the highway a bit. I saw a familiar bright orange poncho on the gravel berm. I slowed down even further and rolled up to Gran. I beeped. She looked over and waved at me. I rolled down my window.
“Don’t stop here, Laurel. Cars come around mighty fast.”
“Yeah, no kidding. Maybe get off the road, then?”
“I am off the road,” she said. “Well, mostly.” She moved over a few inches.
“Get in the car. I’ll drive you home,” I said.
“Nah.” Gran pointed to something over the guardrail. “I have stuff to see.”
“No. But I’m pretty sure a black-backed oriel was at one of my feeders until a squirrel scared it. I heard him call a few times and figured I might as well get my weekly hike in.”
“It’s awful out!” I said.
Gran shrugged. “Go on now,” she said. “Go home.”
“Promise me if you hear . . .”
“Yes, yes. Of course. I’ll always wait for you. Go away.”
I shook my head at her, but I rolled up my window and shifted into gear again. Gran often walked up the hill just to get some exercise, or to get a better view. There was a trail that led back to her house that joined the main path not far from here. She was in her bird Zen mode, where she preferred to be alone. But it seemed like a bad idea for her to be out in this weather. I had barely spotted her by the side of the road, and I was practically walking the car around the bend.
Though. Gran was seventy-four. Obviously the woman could take care of herself.
The Confusion Of Laurel Graham
By: Adrienne Kisner
Publisher: Fiewel & Friends
Release Date: June 4th, 2019
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