Excerpt from Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Hollywood Park

by Mikel Jollett

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett X
Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett
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  • Published:
    May 2020, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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Chapter 1
Ancient Cities
To the East

We were never young. We were just too afraid of ourselves. No one told us who we were or what we were or where all our parents went. They would arrive like ghosts, visiting us for a morning, an afternoon. They would sit with us or walk around the grounds, to laugh or cry or toss us in the air while we screamed. Then they'd disappear again, for weeks, for months, for years, leaving us alone with our memories and dreams, our questions and confusion, the wide-open places where we were free to run like wild horses in the night.

It happened all at once, my brother and I sitting naked in the bath, playing with our toy boats, listening to the music and the sound of muffled voices from the next room. We are swaddled in red and green wool blankets and readied for sleep: story time, pajamas, the rubbing of tired eyes. Goodnight canyon. Goodnight mountain. Goodnight building. Goodnight stars. Crayons are put away, cubbies cleaned, teeth brushed. I drift to sleep and am rattled awake, surprised to see my mother's face with her shaved head, her hazel-green eyes, her round Dutch cheeks and crooked yellow coffee-stained teeth, "Hi, Goo. Wake up. We have to leave. It's not safe here."

I've been told this woman's name is "Mom." That's what I'm told to call her. I know the word is supposed to have some kind of special meaning. She comes to visit me. She's sadder than the others. She wears overalls and squeezes me, talks about how she misses me, her eyes forever darting around the room like a nervous bird. My eyes are filled with sleep, my head heavy. "But I'm tired."

Bonnie and Clubby are the other women. They're with me every day. They're funny. They talk in strange voices and always have a game to play or a slice of apple or crackers and juice. They call me "Son." Pronounced "Suuuuuun" in a low baritone on account of my deep voice, round belly and overbite that makes my top lip stick out in a funny way. They always say they could just "eat my face." They're big and soft, like warm pillows I can fall into. Clubby talks in a strange way that doesn't use any r's. "Well, waddya think, kid? You gonna get in yo jammies o' wut?" She says it's because she's from a place called New Yoke. Which is far away from California.

The woman I'm told to call "Mom" cries when she comes to visit. She reads me a book or we walk around the compound, the big golden field, or I sit in her lap as she sings songs with words I don't understand—"Fair-a, jhock-a, fair-a jhock-a, door may voo, door may voo." She combs my hair, tells me she misses me. "Don't be sad, Mom," I tell her. I tell her that most of all. "Don't be so sad all the time." She stares at me when I eat like she's trying to memorize something, like she's about to say something but decides not to.

"I love you, Goo. My little boy." Tears in her eyes fall on the bib of her clean blue overalls. Everyone wears overalls here. I have three pairs. Then she disappears again and I find Clubby and Bonnie and we laugh and build things out of Popsicle sticks or play hide-and- seek with the other kids until bath time, then song time, singing:

There's a land that I see where the children are free ...

Then bedtime when there are stories of dragons and castles and baby birds and moons that talk to children and children who talk to cats and blue butterflies that talk to lions. Then they say goodnight to me, to Cassidy, to Guy, to Dmitri—my best buddy—then Noah.

When I wake up, when all the other kids are still sleeping, Mom shakes me and says, "We have to go, we have to go now. You have to be quiet, honey."

I tell her I need some water. She has a look I've never seen as I feel my chest sink into itself like there's something sharp and hot at the bottom of my throat. "What about Clubby and Bonnie?"

"Shhh ... We can write to them, I promise." She picks me up. The other kids are fast asleep. There's a soft yellow light coming from the doorway of the bathroom with the low toilet next to the craft tables. Debbie, who watches over us at night, stands next to the woman I am told to call Mom. She looks scared. My brother Tony is in the doorway, already dressed, his arms crossed. His head is shaved just like mine.

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From Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollet, Copyright © 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC

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