In an affecting novel reminiscent of Mona Simpson's Anywhere But Here, gifted author Stephanie Rosenfeld introduces us to one of the most memorable characters in recent fiction. Wise beyond her years and yet touchingly naïve, twelve-year-old Justine Hanley searches for what's true and simpleas her madcap mother leads her and younger sister Rona across the country in search of grand adventure and the next great boyfriend.
Colleen Hanley is a creative, tender, and completely lost soul. Possessing an astonishing ability to busily do just about nothing all day, she can't manage to find a jobor the motivation to hold on to one. With her ex-husband preaching to her about his newfound religion, and a recent string of horrible dates weighing her down, Colleen has decided she's had enough of California.
Justine knows it's comingthe signs are obvious. So when Colleen wakes her and Rona up early one Saturday morning, she's hardly surprised she must go to the library and endure the familiar moving ritual. Colleen pages through maps and tourist books and phone books, looking for their next home. This time, the destination is Massachusetts. They'll stay with Colleen's old friend Marie, her husband, Bill, and their kids. Colleen promises it will be the beginning of the rest of their lives. But Justine knows that the truth never just comes waltzing out of someone's mouth through a smile-shaped opening.
Once mother and daughters hit the road, another story begins to unfold in the guise of the pioneer diary of Zebulina Walker, whose westward journey offers an intriguing counterpoint to Justine's sudden eastbound voyage. Away from California, as Justine desperately tries to navigate the changing terrain of home, family, and adolescence, Colleen slips further into despondency. Forced to take over all responsibilities, Justine realizes it's up to her to make sure their little family survives this "grand adventure." Now if she only knew how to do that. . . .
Smart and poignant, charming and witty, Massachusetts, California, Timbuktu is a wonderful debut novel, a mother-daughter story that proves it's always those who give you the most trouble that end up getting access to the purest part of your heart.
THE YEAR OF THE CAT
It wasn't really the year of the catthat was just a stupid song on All Oldies All the Time Mom liked to go around singing, even though she didn't know any of the words except for that one line.
"The year of the cat!" she'd blurt out in a half-talking, half-singing voice, and you'd wait for her to connect it to somethinga thought or a reason or another piece of the songbut she'd just go back to what she was doing. She got Rona doing it, too, and sometimes the two of them would sing it to each other a hundred times a day, wiggling their eyebrows and hunching their shoulders, like two aliens telling each other a fascinating fact in the language of their planet.
Mom had gotten Rona a cat; that was why she'd originally started saying, "The year of the cat!" Every time the cat walked by, she'd bend down and look it in the eye and say it. Sometimes she'd make a claw in the air with her hand, and the cat would ...
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