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Excerpt from Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Once We Were Home

by Jennifer Rosner

Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner X
Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2023, 288 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2024, 288 pages

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What goes up and down without moving?

Stairs.

What is as light as a feather but the strongest man cannot hold for long?

Breath.

Where can you find cities, towns, and streets but no people?

A map.

"With the roads to good and evil," he and Henri both blurt at the same time.

The boys clatter into the bathhouse, wriggling out of their coats and shoes, leaving them in heaps in the outer changing room. Brother Jacques ushers them along, quietly directing most of the boys to the showers, Roger and Henri to individual tubs. Roger feels lucky he gets a tub again. This is how he knows he must be Brother Jacques's favorite.

The first thing Roger does in the bath is dunk himself all the way under the water and cross himself, to make himself really clean. Then he soaks and floats, trying to think up riddles to tell Henri. He watches steam rise above the water like the Holy Spirit and adds his own warm breath to it.

Outside, hair hanging lank—not like in winter, when it dries straw-stiff, even more like a hedgehog—Roger and Henri keep to the back of the line to avoid Albert. Then, with their hands cupping their ears, elbows swinging, they take exaggerated jerky steps, pretending they've been boxed on both ears by Sister Chantal.

Roger's assigned chore for the week is peeling potatoes. He sits over a bucket, the musty smell of earth in his nose and on his fingers. Nuns scurry between the stoves, fretting over the watery soup. One constantly looks over to make sure the peelings land in the bucket, every scrap worth saving. Roger's hands turn red-raw as he peels one slippery potato after the next. Outside, the sun sifts through the clouds, splaying light beams as if from Heaven into the steamy kitchen. He thinks of the religious paintings that dot the hallways and wonders,

Are there really roads to good and evil?

Why did my parents take the wrong road, like Madame Mercier said?

Can I really be saved if they weren't?

Once We Were Home copyright © 2023 by Jennifer Rosner. All rights reserved. For information, address Flatiron Books, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.

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