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Tess Goodwin’s life in rural Iowa is sheltered and uncomplicated. Although she chooses to spend most of her free time playing chess with her best friend Zander, the farm-boy from next door, her skills as a bovine midwife and tractor mechanic ensure that she fits in with the other kids at East Chester High. But when her veteran father reenlists in the Army, moving her family halfway across the country to North Carolina, Tess is forced out of her comfort zone into a world she knows nothing about.
Tess approaches the move as she would a new game of chess, plotting her course through the unfamiliar reality of her new life. While heeding Zander’s long-distance advice for making new friends and strategizing a means to endure her dad’s imminent deployment to the Middle East, she quickly discovers how ill-equipped she is to navigate the societal challenges she encounters and becomes convinced she’ll never fit in with the students at her new school.
When Leonetta Jackson is assigned as her mentor, she becomes Tess’s unexpected guide through the winding labyrinth of cultural disparities between them, sparking a tentative friendship and challenging Tess to confront her reluctant nature. As the pieces move across the board of her upended life, will Tess find the acceptance she so desperately desires?
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Mom smiles sympathetically and glances up, realizing I’ve stepped into the room. “Tess, did you know Alice’s family keeps a plot of farmland down the road on the other side of Spring Lake? You said you grow soybean and sorghum and cotton?”
“Tell Tess about the farm’s history. It’s fascinating.”
I can’t imagine Alice, with her chewing gum and chic hairstyle and fitted slacks working on a farm. I slip onto the empty chair beside her as she begins to explain.
“The land was my great-great-grandfather’s, bought with his own wages after the emancipation. He was a butcher, not a farmer, but he kept the land planted every year for his kids to harvest. By hand, of course. Said he didn’t want them to forget where they came from. Said he wanted to make sure they had a physical connection to their past. Anyway, when he died, he passed the land and the tradition on to his kids, and my great-grandfather and great uncles did the same with their families. To this day, my dad plants every spring and my brother and I harvest every fall. It’s a small plot. Not nearly as big as the one my dad and his brothers and sisters picked, but still, it’s enough to get your muscles burning.” She holds out her hands, and I can make out scars on her fingertips. “My cousins are secretly plotting to sell their portion of the land once it’s our time, but who knows? I might join the Black Cotton movement.”
“Black Cotton?” I ask.
“Yeah, there’s this amazing fifth-generation cotton farmer here in North Carolina who started this company, Black Cotton, as a way for other black, small-acreage cotton farmers to sustain profitability. But they don’t sell the cotton to the clothing industry; they sell it as décor, like in bouquets and stuff.” She narrows her eyes at me. “Have you ever seen real cotton before? Like still on the stalk?”
I shake my head.
“Most people haven’t,” she says, smiling. “It’s actually quite beautiful. Maybe you’d like to help us with the harvest in the fall and you can see it for yourself?”
That Alice is willing to share this part of herself with me fills my farmer heart to overflowing. “I’d love that,” I tell her.
Smiling satisfactorily to herself, Mom backs out of the room. “I guess it’s a good thing Alice asked about our farm back in Iowa,” she says, revealing the origin of their conversation. “Kinda cool you both know a thing or two about agriculture.”
There’s a tug. The pull of an invisible connection strengthening the bond between us. I wonder how many threads it will take to seal our friendship and how many connections we’ll discover as the days go by. Surely there are others.
About the Author:
Amalie Jahn is a USA TODAY bestselling author of more than 8 young adult novels, including The Next To Last Mistake, her latest release (Light Messages Publishing 2019). Amalie is the recipient of the Literary Classics Seal of Approval and the Readers' Favorite Gold Medal for her debut novel, The Clay Lion. She is a contributing blogger with the Huffington Post and Southern Writers Magazine, as well as a TED speaker, human rights advocate, and active promoter of kindness. She lives in the United States with her husband, two children, and three overfed cats.
When she's not at the computer coaxing characters into submission, you can find Amalie swimming laps, cycling, or running on the treadmill, probably training for her next triathlon. She hates pairing socks and loves avocados. She is also very happy time travel does not yet exist. Connect with her right here in the present day at these social media sites:
Websites – http://www.amaliejahn.com and lightmessages.com/amalie-jahn
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