Title: This is Sarah
Author: Ally Malinenko
Publisher: BookFish Books
Release Date: July 3, 2014
When Colin Leventhal leaned out his bedroom window on the night of May 12th and said goodbye to his girlfriend, he never expected it would be forever. But when Sarah Evans goes missing that night, Colin's world unravels as he transforms from the boyfriend next door to the main police suspect. Then one year later, at her memorial service, Colin makes a phone call that could change everything. Is it possible that Sarah is still alive? And if so, how far will he go to bring her back?
As Colin struggles with this possibility, across the street, Sarah’s little sister, Claire learns how to navigate the strange new landscape of life without her sister. While her parents fall apart, Claire remains determined to keep going, even if it kills her.
This is Sarah serves as a meditation on loss, love, and what it means to say goodbye.
I didn’t start off wanting to write about loss. Who does? I mean, honestly who gets up in the morning, turns on their laptop and says, okay let’s see how depressing this can get?
I started this book as a short story and that short story was a ghost story. And not the My-boyfriend-died-but-still-loves-me-so-much-that-he-came-back-from-the-other-side-and-now-we’re-ghosty-lovers kind.
I mean a real honest to goodness ghost story. Boo!
And then something happened. I had a story in me, a real one, from REAL life, that I wanted to tell but I never knew how.
And I had Colin – my main character, though at the time he wasn’t called Colin. I don’t remember what his name was back then but he was still angry. He was angry about how cruel the universe was. He was angry about his loss.
He was my Furious Boy.
And then I started to think that this story isn’t really a ghost story. It’s a love story – sort of – but more than that it’s a story about Loss. And as much as I had been avoiding it, I had a few things I wanted to say about Loss.
I’m not going to go into my whole personal story. Mainly because if I could have talked about it in the first place then I wouldn’t have written the novel to begin with. But I will say this – they tell you that writing is cathartic. I never believed that before. I don’t know. Maybe I was writing all the wrong stuff. But after this book – I do believe it. Because I took all those unresolved feelings – all those goodbyes that were never said and I stuffed them into a suitcase and I handed it off to Colin. Through him I could be angry. I could be sad. I could talk about how unfair the universe was. Through him I could rant about how anniversaries are awful things and how we need a new time keeping system in this world, one that doesn’t revolve around coming back to the same place again. I could be immature. I could shake my fist at the gods. I could scream at the storm cloud.
And it felt good.
But what I couldn’t do is talk from personal experience about what it means when someone vanishes. Just...poof. Here one minute, gone the next. Not without spending time with the stories of people who have.
In my book, Jenna waits at a diner for her best friend Sarah to show up. She calls and gets no answer. She doesn’t panic. It’s a small town in Colorado – reception is always spotty. And then Sarah never shows. Sarah is gone. Just...gone.
I knew when I started this that a part of Jenna would sit forever in that diner, waiting. She’d heal – what else could she do but go on? But this one little sliver of her soul would always be back there, fiddling with the napkin, getting a refill on coffee, watching the door. Waiting for Sarah.
And Colin, Sarah’s boyfriend, would always carry with him the questions. Not only, what happened, but what could have happened if he was with her that night. If he went instead of choosing to stay home? Would it have made a difference? Would Sarah still be with him? Where do you put that kind of guilt, that kind of anger? How do you move on when you know, through hindsight, if you had just made one small different choice, it would have changed everything.
And Claire, Sarah’s little sister, who is now navigating this strange unknown landscape – her life now reduced dramatically. Her sister gone. That room empty. The empty chair at the dinner table. Her parents broken like smashed dolls. Her own life, unhinged by things she cannot control. And the questions – what happened that night? Is she alive? How did she die? They never stop.
This is loss. Loss on an unfathomable level. I didn’t expect to start talking about these things when I started what would become This Is Sarah.
2,300 Americans are reported missing every day. Every day. Yes, only a small number are the stranger abduction that often makes the news. You want to know what that number is?
100 kids are kidnapped/abducted every day.
When it stands on its own it doesn’t seem that small. Put those kids in a room together. Picture them. Now it seems even bigger. Lump them back into the 2,300 – now that’s 2,300 families left wondering, what happened? Where are they?
In the research I did, they are often referred to collective as The Missing. Since starting this book I have never been able to walk past a missing poster in my city and not look at the person closely. Did she have her mother’s eyes? Did he have his father’s smile? I study their faces. I try to remember. I try to pay attention.
The research I did for This Is Sarah has changed me. I won’t forget those stories I read – those people who still wake every day with the hope that something, anything, will change. Those people that go to bed most nights without that change.
If you are interested in helping please take a look at these sites. If you have the means to help financially, please do – if not, educate yourself and others. You never know what a difference it will make.
National Center for Missing Adults: http://lbth.org/
National Center for Missing Children: http://www.missingkids.com/
Klaas Kids Foundation: http://klaaskids.org/
About the Author
Ally Malinenko is the author of the poetry collection The Wanting Bone (Six Gallery Press) and the children's fantasy Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb (Antenna Books). She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.
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