the body-twirling, wheel-spinning, heart-healing tale of two sisters
When the death of a friend pushes Penny's sister into reckless choices—and her family into silence—Penny escapes to the roller rink where new friendships help transform her own grief into hope.
“My sister said Robert was your sister’s boyfriend?”
Jason and Oscar are the last people on earth I’d want to discuss Julie with, but something makes me answer.
“Julie and Robert were best friends,” I say. “Since sixth grade.”
Jason looks at his feet. “It’s kind of weird for boys and girls to be best friends.”
“Is that what your sister said?” I ask in my meanest voice.
“No,” Jason says. “That’s what I think.”
I look at Oscar whose eyebrows are bent, whose eyes show how bad he feels for me. I think Mrs. Stake was right when she said he has the best manners in our class. I start again, “Lots of people think it’s strange, but it was just the way things were for them.”
Jason nods and Oscar gives a slight grin. I quick swallow the last of my cola and say, “Welp, I gotta book. It’s getting late.”
“See you,” Oscar calls.
I don’t say good-bye or wave. I’m just off and skating with quick bursts, keeping my eyes on my skates. I love my blue tennis-shoe skates with three yellow, leather stripes on the sides, but that doesn’t stop the tears from forming a film over my eyes, blurring the colors. I keep my eyes down, pushing, rolling harder and faster. I make it to stoplight before the wetness overflows onto my cheeks. I push the crosswalk button a million times, and I shove off the second the walk-light appears.
I’m back in my neighborhood when I notice my breath sputtering, my lungs burning, as I suck in air. About half a block later, my tears give up. I wipe away the evidence, while the cool evening air pushes over my sweaty forehead. I can’t really explain the tears, though I think I’m ashamed. And mad. At Robert. His ghost seems to be floating around Mission Woods, following me, always with me. I skid to a stop then, right in the middle of Maple Street.
I remember this time, last year, when Mallory asked me if I was jealous of Robert.
“Jealous? Of Robert? For what?” I’d been confused, but defensive.
“For taking up all of Julie’s time,” Mallory had said in her I-know-you-know-what-I-mean-Penny-Miles voice.
I had laughed then. But now, I think it’s true. Mallory and her sister Sandra—who is much older, seventeen—are very tight. They play basketball in the driveway on the weekends, both like taking tap dancing lessons and listening to their parent’s old country-and-western albums. I guess I’ve always wanted that with Julie. I guess I’ve always wanted to be respected and liked by her. To be her friend.
And maybe I could have had that with Julie if Robert hadn’t taken all the friendship Julie had to give. He’d taken it and never returned it before he died. Why had Julie given him so much in the first place?
I cry again, thinking, she could have shared just a little with me.
I skate the rest of the way in slow strokes, not caring that I’m late. All right, I care a little. Mom shoots me a look from the stove as I roll in smelling outside-dirty.
“Wash up and set the table, please,” she says. “And call your sister when you’re done.”
The Miles family is quiet around the table these days. Dad asks us about school. Julie says it was fine and her math test was a cinch. I wonder if she skipped today…was that why the test was so easy?
I shower and go to bed early, easily drifting to sleep. I wake again around eleven thinking about my anger…and that grief book from the library. I try to recall the stages, and remember the one that scares me, the one called loneliness. I feel like Julie might be stuck there. I let out a sigh and roll around, but I can’t get back to sleep.
Then I hear something that makes me sit up and be still. It’s Julie. She’s trying to quiet her sobbing breaths. The sobs soak through, though, soak right through the wall that separates our bedrooms and sink deep into my chest where my heart pulses an irregular beat. In this moment I know I have to stop avoiding her, have to find a way to become her friend. In this moment I know I love Julie so much it hurts.
backstory for roll
backstory for roll
Behind every story is what writers call the backstory. The backstory contains the first glimpses of the character, plot, and setting, and most of these bits come from the writer's own life experience and interests. For me, backstory isn't just what has happened before the story starts, but also all the things, real and imaginary, that influence the novel's beginning, middle, and end. Below you can find a portion of the backstories that informed each of my books.
When I began writing Roll, I wanted to tell the truth about how families operate during tough times. And I wanted to tell the truth about sisterhood, which takes lots of twists and turns and sometimes includes heartbreak. The reality is that love between family members is different than love between friends. And having one kind of love does not necessarily replace needing the other kind.
Roll explores friendships between genders and those of different age groups because these things do affect the landscape of companionship. Roll also doesn’t mince words about the painful beauty and beautiful pain that comes up when two or more people decide to be friends. Friendships can be fun and serious, life-giving and energy-taking, glorious and tragic, and all combinations of these exist, making them perfectly imperfect.
Mission Skate Rink was a real place where kids in my neighborhood went to be with their people. Adults made rare appearances, which left us to glide and roll and twirl and snowball through the night with only rink rules as our guide. Lessons learned in this way were more valuable, more long-lasting, and permanent growth happened much quicker than on the outside of the rink. I wish all kids could have this experience, and I guess that’s one reason I wrote the book.