YABC Scavenger Hunt: What I Leave Behind (Alison McGhee), Plus Playlist, & Extra Giveaway!
Today we're excited to share an playlist from
Alison McGhee's What I Leave Behind as part of the YABC Scavenger Hunt!
Read on for more about Alison and her novel!
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Meet Alison McGhee!
Meet What I Leave Behind!
After his dad commits suicide, Will tries to overcome his own misery by secretly helping the people around him in this story made up of one hundred chapters of one hundred words each.
Sixteen-year-old Will spends most of his days the same way: Working at the Dollar Only store, trying to replicate his late father’s famous cornbread recipe, and walking the streets of Los Angeles. Will started walking after his father committed suicide, and three years later he hasn’t stopped. But there are some places Will can’t walk by: The blessings store with the chest of 100 Chinese blessings in the back, the bridge on Fourth Street where his father died, and his childhood friend Playa’s house.
When Will learns Playa was raped at a party—a party he was at, where he saw Playa, and where he believes he could have stopped the worst from happening if he hadn’t left early—it spurs Will to stop being complacent in his own sadness and do some good in the world. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life, from Superman the homeless guy he passes on his way to work, to the Little Butterfly Dude he walks by on the way home, to Playa herself. And it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again. Oh, and discover the truth about that cornbread.
~ Playlist ~
What I Leave Behind stars Will, a boy with a huge, tender, hurting heart who deals with the others' sorrows --and his own-- by walking them out through the soles of his feet. Will wanders for miles and miles through the streets of his L.A. neighborhood, and as he does, he thinks about his father, who died three years ago, and his childhood friend Playa, who was assaulted at a party a few weeks ago. He observes the world around him with acute empathy --the little neighborhood boy who loves butterflies, the homeless man named Superman who spends his nights with his back to a brick wall, Mrs. Lin who owns the Chinese blessings store that he and his dad used to go to, the poor dog permanently attached to a chain in the backyard of a nearby house, and Major Tom, his boss at Dollar General--and he begins to leave little anonymous gifts for everyone. Leaving gifts and being kind, trying to make sure no one ever feels alone and abandoned, is Will's way of making it through the world. This playlist is a compilation of all the songs that remind me of Will's particular kind of tenderness.
1. Space Oddity, by David Bowie. This song is Will's anthem, and one of the threads that connects the entire book. Will's dad loved Bowie, and so does his mom, and Will still has an old Bowie T-shirt that his dad used to wear. Some of the lines in Space Oddity feel to Will as if they were written directly for him, such as "Planet Earth is blue. . . and there's nothing you can do." He thinks of the line "Time to leave the capsule if you dare" when challenging himself to do things that are hard, such as to keep putting one foot in front of the other to make his way through the grief of losing his dad.
2. The Sound of Sunshine, by Michael Franti. This song is one of my own daily anthems. Like Will, I'm a walker who has tromped my way through the hardest times in my own life. And good times, too, because the world is as full of joy as it is sorrow. Every day I play this song at least once, when I'm heading out on a jog or a walk, or when I need to get up from my writing and dance around the table. The lines "Some days you lose, you win, and the water's as high as the times you're in - so I jump back into where I learned to swim, and I try to keep my head above as best I can" feel as they were written just for me. (Fun fact: my daughter and I went to hear Michael Franti at the state fair once. We had nosebleed seats, but he danced his way up all the flights of stairs until he was at our row, and we danced with him. Whatcan I say? I love, love, love Michael Franti.)
3. 13, by Big Star. This song brings a lump to my throat every time I hear it, and I usually end up listening to it three or four times in a row. I'm not sure why it brings up such tenderness in me. Maybe it's Big Star's quiet, quavering voice, maybe it's the gentleness of the lyrics themselves--"Won't you let me walk you home from school? Won't you let me meet you at the pool?"--but I'm pretty sure that if Will were a boy forty years ago, this is the way he would have approached someone he wanted to ask out.
4. Ave Maria, as sung by Beyonce. I love Beyonce (who doesn't?), but of all her songs, it's this one that I most love. Years ago at Christmastime one of my daughters played it for me in the car on the way to school, and ever since then I turn to this song to lift me out of frustration and conflict. Ave Maria is hundreds of years old, a song composed by Schubert and covered since by thousands of artists. But there's something about the earthy simplicity of Beyonce's voice when she sings it that returns me to the quiet resolve I need to write the most beautiful books I can write. After I listen to this song, I want to return to my writing table.
5. Here Comes a Regular, by the Replacements. This is my favorite Replacements song, and it's a song I imagine Will would nod affirmation to if he ever heard it on the radio. Here Comes a Regular is about everyone's longing for a place to belong, with people who know your name, who call it loud and clear. Doesn't everyone want to be special to someone? The line Everyone wants to be someone's here reflects Will's unerring ability to see the vulnerability in others, their shy, beating hearts.
6. Uptown Funk, by Mark Ronson, performed by Bruno Mars. This is one of my favorite songs, and of all the versions by all the artists who've covered it, Bruno's is my favorite. I add it to this playlist because writing is intense work that takes all my energy. Sometimes, like Will, it's hard to witness the courage and struggles of those around me, whether they're living breathing humans or people I conjured up in a novel. Sometimes, like Will does when he goes out walking, I have to change things up by dancing. So I put on Uptown Funk and off we go.
7. That Year, by Brandi Carlile. Brandi is one of my favorite artists. I see her whenever I can, and I keep her songs in constant rotation on my playlists. The first time I heard That Year I was in my car, driving, so I couldn't write down the lines that were making me cry. I played it over and over and over as I drove, and when I got home I wrote it down. It's about a girl who died of suicide in high school. The perspective is a long time later, when the singer reflects on that time of life and sees how sweet it was, and how painful, and how she wishes she'd done things differently. If Will ever heard That Year, he would do what I did and play it over and over. He would think about his dad, and how if only, if only, if only. . .
8. Fast Car, by Tracy Chapman. I include Fast Car on this playlist because Fast Car is on all my playlists. This song is one of the anthems of my own life. It's about the bone-deep longing of a girl to get out, get away, unbury herself from the burdens, and at the same time it speaks to her deep love for and deeper obligation to her father, who she believes she must stay behind to care for. It's been decades since I first heard Tracy Chapman sing this song, and in all these years its power has not lessened.
What I Leave Behind
By: Alison McGhee
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Release Date: May 14th, 2018
One winner will receive a copy of What I Leave Behind (Alison McGhee) ~ (US Only)
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The cover is cool and easygoing, and the themes this story deals with are as tough as can be. I respect both and am so excited to read this novel.