I’ve been a big fan of Caroline Leavitt‘s novels since I met her years ago on Readerville.com. Her earlier novels – she’s published eight now! – were wonderful. It’s her latest, though – Pictures of You – that is my hands down fave. And it’s getting raves everywhere. Vanity Fair, in Hot Type: “Caroline Leavitt plumbs the depths of grief and forgiveness in the lovely Pictures Of You.” O Magazine: “Suspenseful … gripping.” Jodi Picoult: “a magically written, heartbreakingly honest snapshot of the people we leave behind and those we can’t let go.” Pictures of You is a Costco Penny’s Pick, and went into it’s 3rd printing even before publication. It’s just out this week! Read it now! - Meg
Picture this. You’re a little girl inside a library and you’re staring out the window at all your friends who are outside playing. You can’t go out and be there with them because it’s either too cold or too hot or too humid or too wet, or any number of weather calamities that are bad for your asthma. Even if you could go out, there’s sure to be some wag mimicking how you wheeze or calling you “Asthma Girl” and making you wish you had stayed in the library. So you stay inside. You begin reading every book you can think of, traveling to all sorts of worlds different than your own, and after a while, you begin to want to write a story of your own.
My mother, happy to do anything to make me forget I’m a different sort of little girl, buys me four beautiful colorful notebooks and I quickly fill them with stories. I’m not that girl wheezing in her bedroom anymore. I’m a ballet dancer in Spain or a lion tamer in Africa or even a male pilot scooting across the Atlantic with barely enough fuel for a dramatic landing. Writing opens up my narrow world. It lets me be anyone but who I am. I love it so much, it’s all I want to do.
One day, in school, I’m in third grade and I’m writing a story during a study period. I still remember that story. “Adventure with a lion.” The story is about a little girl who ventures into an open lion cage in the zoo and suddenly the lion is coming towards her. The crowd outside is screaming for her to get out, and she is terrified. But then she remembers a crumbled chocolate chip cookie in her pocket, one she was saving for later, and she digs it out and hands trembling, holds the treat out for the lion. The lion approaches, licks her hand, eats the cookie and then amiably licks her face.
The teacher, reading over my shoulder, says, “Caroline, this is a good story. I’d love you to read it to the class.” Well, I’d rather get root canal without anesthesia than do that! I’m used to kids mocking me for having asthma, for being bookish and shy. Why would I want to subject myself to more ridicule? But I love this teacher, and I trust her, and she assures me she’ll be there for me. “Go ahead,” she urges. “Wait until you see what happens.”
I stand in front of the class, my hands shaking the paper. I don’t dare look at the kids’ face because I know they are rolling their eyes or staring off into the distance, bored. I read, caught up in the story, in this other world, and when I get to the end, I realize there is silence. I’m doomed, I think. I’m ruined. Resigned, I look up and the other kids are looking at me, amazed, and then there is a crash of applause! I can’t believe it! A story is saving my life, saving me! It was that moment that I realized who I was, or at least, who I wanted to be. A storyteller.
It’s been years since then. I still live in other worlds in my head, I still have asthma, though it is very minor, and now, every time I get up to read in front of people, instead of the terror, I feel this amazing bliss that I get to do this. I get to be this. I get to tell stories for a living. - Caroline