Amber Vaughn is looking for a way out of Sevenmile, North Carolina. With Mama determined to keep her tucked in the confining bosom of small town church, Daddy's affairs threatening their family’s foundation, and her sister's husband dealing drugs from the backyard trailer, Amber turns to boys. Each one different, each one feeding a part of the fantasy that she’s unique. But what people are figuring out, while Amber is making out, is that she has a singing voice. A legit voice that might actually take her places. And what Amber is figuring out, is one of those boys makes her feel just as free as when she's singing.
When a representative from NC-Arts - a school for talented high school juniors and seniors - invites her to an audition, Amber convinces her mother to let her try out. But her skeevy brother-in-law has other plans. He knows about Amber’s extra-curricular activities and gives her a choice. Help him steal prescription drugs or he’ll tell her Mama the only angelic thing about Amber is her voice. Whatever she chooses, she's going to lose - either the something she’s been dreaming about, the someone who’s found his way to her heart, or her reputation, where it matters most. At home.
This edgy, Southern 71k young adult contemporary should appeal to fans of THE DUFF and STORY OF A GIRL.
I’m a member of SCBWI, an active participant in Verla Kay’s Blue Boards, and take courses with Joy Neaves (formerly of Front Street Press) through the Great Smokies Writing Program. I've had an essay published in the national horse periodical, THE TRAIL LESS TRAVELED. When not writing, I teach high school art. I can be found on the web at jayerobinbrown.com and @jayerobinbrown.
Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Jaye (Jro) Brown
The man talking on the local news has it out for me. Through the screen door, I watch Mama, remote control in hand, mouth gasping like a banked fish with each new tale of murder and woe. Every single day, morning and evening, she convinces herself the world beyond our doorstep is a Very Bad Place. I’ve managed to sneak off in plain sight most of the summer, but I never know when she might decide an ax murderer is lurking in the woods and keep me home.
Devon’s Jeep barrels around the curve in the road. I stand up, wiping the dust off my jean shorts. He parks and makes his way across our overgrown yard, guitar slung over his shoulder, foil-wrapped plate in his hand.
“Ready?” I say. “Mama’s working herself into a scare.”
He peers past me into the house. “Hey, Mrs. Vaughn.”
I groan as Mama walks toward the screen door.
“You’ve got your cell phones? You won’t be out too late now, will you?” Mama has her hand on the door pull but doesn’t open it. “Devon, you look after Amber, sometimes there are hikers from who knows where out on those trails.” She looks at the plate and his guitar. “What? No salamander hunting today? Y’all meeting somebody?”
“No ma’am,” I lie. “Just us, going to go sing up on the overlook, and we may try and find us a Hellbender or two.”
That’s been our story. That we’re on the hunt for the elusive Hellbender salamander. That we spend our long teenage hours in the woods, alone, digging under rocks, trying to find a slimy amphibian that’s about as hard to find as a kernel of truth is in my family. The reality is we’re headed to the hiker barn. Again.
A twinge of guilt burbles in my gut. If Mama knew what I was up to it’d destroy her. But the thing is, Mama only sees what she wants to see. Even when I come home bra-less, lips swollen, with stars in my eyes and a hickey on my neck, she’ll look at me all maternal and say, “Did you have a nice time, sugar?” She’s as clueless about me as she is about my backyard sister and her drug-dealing husband. Or about Daddy and his overtime. I wonder if the faithful are meant to be so blind.
I’m beginning to wonder if she even cares about us at all.
Devon and I tell her goodbye, assuring her six ways to Sunday we’ll call if we run into trouble, and cut across the back pasture toward the trail.
We traipse past my sister, Whitney’s, faded grey trailer and head for the tree line.
Devon whistles his latest Gaga download as we walk.
He’s funny. Smart enough. He moved to town right when Whitney abandoned me for Sammy and we clung to each other like rabbits in a storm. Unfortunately, Devon’s not into girls.