It was challenging as a young kid and as a teenager to find stories about adopted kids like me. Few existed, and the handful that were out there read like something from a Lifetime movie.
These days, we’re seeing better stories. From authors like Rebecca Barrow to Shannon Gibney to Robin Benway (and her National Book Award-winning Far from the Tree), passionate writers are creating stories that teens deserve. And Nikki Barthelmess is one of those authors.
Her debut novel, The Quiet You Carry, is one of my most-anticipated reads of 2019. When you read the description from the publisher, you’ll understand why:
Victoria Parker knew her dad’s behavior toward her was a little unusual, but she convinced herself everything was fine—until she found herself locked out of the house at 3:00 a.m., surrounded by flashing police lights.
Now, dumped into a crowded, chaotic foster home, Victoria has to tiptoe around her domineering foster mother, get through senior year at a new school, and somehow salvage her college dreams . . . all while keeping her past hidden.
But some secrets won’t stay buried—especially when unwanted memories make Victoria freeze up at random moments and nightmares disrupt her sleep. Even worse, she can’t stop worrying about her stepsister Sarah, left behind with her father. All she wants is to move forward, but how do you focus on the future when the past won’t leave you alone?
Paste is thrilled to reveal the cover and share an excerpt from the novel. It was written from a genuine place, because Barthelmess is a former foster teen.
“Growing up, before and during my time in foster care, I didn’t have a book to read like The Quiet You Carry,” Barthelmess tells Paste. “I didn’t even know what foster care was, really, until I was in the system. It seemed no one around me could understand what I was going through. I felt so alone.”
“The Quiet You Carry is fiction,” she adds. “It isn’t based on my life or the life of anyone I know, but it is partially inspired by circumstances I’ve experienced or have seen in the lives of others. Victoria isn’t me, I often tell people, but her emotions are real. According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, in 2016 (the most recent year research was available as of this writing), there were 437,465 children in the United States foster care system. Victoria’s story is one story. The Quiet You Carry isn’t meant to serve as a one-size-fits all narrative about what it’s like to be in foster care. I hope to see many, many more books with foster kid protagonists because there are so many different experiences.”
You can view the gorgeous cover below, which was designed by Jake Nordby:
Flux Books will release The Quiet You Carry on March 5th, 2019, and you can pre-order it here. While you wait, you can read this exclusive excerpt:
Dad’s door slams. He locks it, too, by the sound of it. He shuts himself in his room with his wife—leaving me in the dark hallway with this woman, this stranger. Her shape blurs before me, and I reach out to the nearby wall to steady myself.
“I’m with Child Protective Services,” the woman tells me. “It’s going to be okay, Victoria, but you have to come with me.”
I stare at the back of my dad’s closed bedroom door and wipe my tear-soaked face. “I don’t understand,” I plead. “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t—”
“Shh.” The woman reaches out to put a hand on my shoulder but drops it when I flinch. Dad touched my shoulder. Just minutes before, Dad touched my shoulder and my hair. He came close, too close, and I froze.
My stepsister Sarah is asleep in her bedroom at the end of the dim hallway, completely unaware of everything happening outside her door.
The woman clears her throat. “My name is Fran.” She wears a puffy black jacket and jeans. Her gray hair is tied back in a loose bun, and strands slip onto her face. She doesn’t look tired, even though it’s so late. I glance into the kitchen and see the microwave clock reading 3:08 a.m.
“I didn’t do anything,” I say again.
“I understand that’s what you told the police officer, but your father is telling a different story. I want to hear your side. You can tell us what happened, what’s been happening. And you can press charges—”
“Press charges?” I interrupt. “No. Nothing happened. I already told him that.” I wave maniacally toward the police officer sitting on our couch, who’s probably writing notes about his conversations with me and my dad. “I’m not going to press charges, because whatever you think happened, didn’t. My dad and I had a misunderstanding.” I let out a breath and close my eyes. I have to think clearly. I have to make sense of this.
It happened so fast, after Dad left the room, and I closed and locked the door. Tiffany banged on the door moments later, saying my father was ready to talk to me. Instead, when I opened the door, Dad pushed Tiffany aside, grabbed me by the arm and dragged me outside. No jacket, no shoes. Locked me out in the cold. A few minutes later, blue-and-red police lights shone through the dark residential street.
Sitting on the curb, shivering, I watched as the police officer got out of his squad car and sat next to me.
“Hello, my name is Officer McDonnell. I’m with the Reno P.D.” He reached a hand out to shake and I grasped it, wiping tears off my face with my other hand. “Are you hurt?”
I shook my head no.
The man’s voice was deep and he spoke slowly as he asked me more questions. I could focus on his voice, but not the words he was saying.
I shook my head. Told him my dad and I had a misunderstanding.
“Did he touch you? Did your father try to make you do anything you didn’t want to?”
“No, no, no. Nothing happened!” I was yelling. I didn’t mean to, but beyond the officer, the door creaked open to reveal Dad and Tiffany. Dad gave her a meaningful look, like the fact that I was yelling proved this was my fault.
Officer McDonnell stood, seemingly sizing my dad up. He told him it was pretty cold outside, being December, for me to be locked out there. And late, too. He ushered me in, past Dad and Tiffany, and told me to stay in my bedroom. I waited until the sound of his footsteps became softer before cracking my door open to peer outside. Officer McDonnell was in the living room, pulling a small notepad from his pocket. Dad, dressed now with his hair combed, stood by the couch. He started talking quietly, calmly. I couldn’t make out his words. He didn’t seem as angry as before. Maybe he would talk to me. Maybe he would look at me.
Maybe he would stop whatever was happening.
But instead another stranger stormed through the front door—this woman with messy gray hair and deep lines on her face, brandishing a Child Protective Services badge for the officer to see. Fran. At the sight of her, Officer McDonnell motioned for Dad to give them some space. Dad scowled and obeyed, waiting in the kitchen as Fran and the officer spoke in hushed voices in the dining room. I blew on my hands, still numb from outside, as I strained to hear what was going on.
Eventually, after seemingly having made some kind of decision, Officer McDonnell met Dad in the kitchen. I watched them whisper before Dad stormed to his bedroom, not bothering to look at me as he went.
Officer McDonnell shook his head in Dad’s direction in disgust, hanging back by the door, seemingly keeping an eye on all of us.
I sat in silence, watching Fran write in a notebook. Time stretched on as my world fell apart around me.
Now, a few moments or a century later, the lights are still on in Dad’s bedroom, but I can’t hear him and Tiffany talking.
“I need you to gather your things.” Fran says, her no-nonsense tone yanking me back to the present. “Nothing valuable, nothing that could be stolen. Just enough clothes to get you by for a week.”
“What do you mean I can’t bring anything valuable? Where are we going?”
My breathing quickens, faster and faster. I suck in all the air I can, and it’s not enough. I stop suddenly. Close my eyes. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t anything. “I’m sorry—what if I just say I’m sorry?”
I raise a hand, ready to bang on Dad’s door. I can apologize. Yell through the door to tell him that I misunderstood. That he doesn’t have to make me go. Couldn’t we pretend it never happened? Couldn’t we forget?
Fran shakes her head slightly, casts her eyes down for a moment.
I stumble back from the door.
Everything’s a blur. I don’t know what Dad told his wife. What he told the police. I don’t know anything. Except Fran’s saying I can’t stay here.
I wipe away a fresh batch of tears. “I don’t have a suitcase. My dad keeps the luggage in his closet.”
Fran produces a black garbage bag from her purse. She hands it to me. I inhale deeply and walk into my room, passing a photo collage of my best friend Jess and me. Fran follows.
“Where are we going?” I ask again, suddenly realizing it might be too far to walk to school. My dad never let me get my license. He liked driving me around.
She sighs, seeing my confusion. “There aren’t a lot of options at this hour, unfortunately. Your father said you don’t have any other family, is that right?”
I nod. My grandparents are dead; both of my parents were the only children in their families. All the family I have is in this house.
“What about friends? A teacher who you’re close with, who might consider taking you in while we figure this out?”
I shake my head vigorously. I’m not telling anyone I know about this. No matter where this woman wants to take me. There’s no way.
Fran frowns, looking like she’s sorry for me.
“Well, then we’ll head to my office, you can sleep on the couch, and then by mid-morning I hope to have secured a placement for you.”
“Why can’t I stay here?”
“Your parents don’t want you staying, and even if they did, at this point we couldn’t really allow you to stay until after some kind of investigation.”
I let it slide that Fran called Tiffany and Dad my “parents.” My stepmom, Tiffany, wouldn’t dream of treating me like I was actually her daughter.
Fran pauses, her eyes narrowing as she seems to think over what she wants to say next.
“Your father is very upset, deeply agitated. He’s accusing you of”—Fran hesitates, the many wrinkles around her mouth deepening as she frowns—“well, no matter right now. The point is, in his anger he locked you, a minor, out of the house in the middle of the night. With no coat. You can’t stay here.”
“Winter break ends in two weeks. How will I get to school?” The words tumble out of me. “I’m a senior. I have to keep my grades up. I just got early acceptance to UNR. I can’t miss any school.”
Fran exhales. She looks at the time on her phone, and then back up at me. “Don’t worry about it now; we don’t know that you’ll miss any school. A lot’s up in the air until I can find you a foster home.”
Cold dread creeps its way down my chest to the pit of my stomach. Foster home. I don’t realize I’ve echoed the words aloud until Fran nods.
“We can talk about it in the car,” she says, firmly this time. “Come on, pack some clothes. Hurry.”
I reach for my cell phone, plugged into its charger on the top of my dresser.
“Nothing valuable,” Fran tells me. “I’m sorry. You have to leave it.”
I drop the phone, letting it smack back down on the dresser loudly. I open drawers and grab as much as I can stuff in the garbage bag. I wish I had done laundry earlier. I thought I’d have time tomorrow. I didn’t think I’d be leaving in the middle of the night. I didn’t think my own father would kick me out. I head to my nightstand and take out my mother’s letter, the one she wrote me before she died years ago, and put it in my pocket.
Back in the hallway, I hesitate outside Sarah’s room. “Can I say goodbye?” I ask Fran. “My stepsister, she’s in there, asleep. Can I tell her where I’m going?”
A touch of sympathy flashes in Fran’s eyes. Hers are green, I realize when the light catches them, like mine and dad’s.
“Your father won’t allow it,” she says. “He wants you gone immediately. We have to go.”
I stand with my hand on Sarah’s doorknob, stunned.
I open my mouth, but no words come out. Fran leans forward, like she might try putting her hand on my shoulder. Instinctively, I back away.
Fran looks at the time on her cell phone again. Like this is just another night for her, like my world isn’t falling apart in front of my eyes.
Fran clears her throat. “This is frightening and awful, I know, but we have to go, and you can’t say goodbye. We can talk more in the car.”
But this is my home.
Without meaning to, I head toward the living room. I watch TV on that couch, with my dad. Even the documentaries he rages at for being unrealistic, he sometimes puts up with—for me. I stare into the dining room. I eat dinner at that table, with my family. The constant arguments, the silent treatment, Tiffany’s disgusting meatloaf—none of it is great, but it’s mine.
I stumble back to my room, my eyes landing on the bed with the covers strewn off. I’m trapped again, feeling what I felt earlier. Dad pinning me down, me crying, shouting, trying to claw my way out from under him.
The space around my heart and lungs gets tighter, my bedroom walls seem like they are closing me in.
This can’t be happening.
Wildly I look around, seeing but not seeing.
The pictures on the walls. My cell phone. My book collection. Everything I own. My whole life.
This isn’t real. It’s a nightmare, and I just need to wake up. I blink rapidly, pinch the inside of my wrist. Snap out of this. Please don’t be real. Please.
But instead of my pillows and the light streaming from my window to warm my closed eyelids and the assurance that I’m safe in my bed, waking up, all I have is Fran. Clucking her tongue, waiting for me.
In a daze, I follow Fran back into the hallway, through the living room and out the door.