When I was twelve my dad got a new job and we moved an hour a half away from my old school, my class, my friends, my soccer and swim teams. I was mad and lonely and nervous that I wouldn’t find my place. My old house had a neighborhood with cul-de-sacs and kids who would run with me through our connected backyards and the woods encircling us until our parents called us home for dinner with the blasts of air horns. My new house was out a rolling dirt road, surrounded by acres of trees, and we couldn’t see the neighbors’ houses from our own. One thing that excited me was a perfectly flat stretch of land right at the bottom of our new yard’s hill where my parents said we could try to dig a pond. I imagined a little dock and cat tails and catching frogs.
In order for a pond, there had to be water, so my dad called my grandpa to come. He brought with him his dowsing rod, a big stick shaped like a Y that he held tightly in his upturned fists as he walked across the land, waiting for it to turn down toward the water beneath the earth. I remember sitting at the top of the hill, watching him step slowly, stopping, and stepping again, and I remember thinking that my grandpa was magical. That he had some special connection with the land that he could feel up through the bottoms of his boots and deep inside him all the way to his fingertips. He was losing his memory and talking less and less during those days, but in that moment I knew, for certain, that he hadn’t forgotten how to listen, that some things we just carry in our guts, and it doesn’t require us to remember because they’ll always be there.
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This memory of my grandpa, searching for water with his dowsing stick in our new yard is at the core of THE REAL DEAL. I wanted to explore all the things we carry in our guts, the things we know to be right and the things that feel wrong, memories that we could never lose, the things that scare us, the things we can’t possibly fix, and the things that bring us hope.
While writing this book, one of those gut-memories came to live on the surface for me. The winter after we moved, just months after my grandpa searched for water beneath the earth, a friend and classmate from my old school died from an unlucky, unfair, and horrific accident in the classroom. I started lodging the grief and guilt in my guts. If I had been there, if we hadn’t moved, maybe I would have called my friend over to look at something in my backpack, or to help me with a stuck zipper, or to sneak a game of tic-tac-toe in my notebook. Maybe my presence would have shifted the universe enough to make it a close, scary call instead of what it was. Or maybe, it would have fallen on me. The community, my old friends, and classmates, my old teachers, and administrators grieved and felt loss and acted out the pain in their guts in different ways. And I stuffed mine down in with the distance and the helplessness and the new understanding that unspeakably horrible things can happen to good people.
I began writing THE REAL DEAL during a very hard year for our country, for our world. We were sheltering-in from a global pandemic. We were scared, and uncertain, and grieving the loss of so many lives and jobs and connections. We were angry and broken over the murder of George Floyd, and searching for hope.
At times, this book felt impossible to write. And one time, before I ever really began, I quit. I told my husband, Kamahnie, that I was giving up for now, that it was too much to manage while caring for our young children and trying to filter for them the weight of the world. I closed my notebooks and put down my pen, but Kamahnie listened and listened as I spilled my guts about distance and loneliness and loss and the connections that made me feel stronger and more hopeful, and he very quietly and very lovingly, wouldn’t let me give up.
So with the memory of my grandpa silently walking the land, listening, and searching for water beneath the surface, and with the memory of my old classmate and friend, and the understanding that we all carry things in our guts, and with my children and for my children, and for little twelve-year-old Lindsey and all her classmates and friends and teachers, and with the consistent support of family, I wrote. I wrote about Gabe and Oliver, and their deep and loving friendship. I wrote about their love for graphic novels and the comic they’re creating together in school. And I wrote about Reuben who doesn’t talk, not ever, who joins their sixth-grade class. I wrote their gut-secrets and I wrote their laughter.
THE REAL DEAL is a story about grief and coping and hope. It’s a story about connections, the ones we refuse to give up and the new ones we are brave enough to create. It’s an ode to the things that bring us joy. Books! Creemes! Exploring the woods, and true, loving friendships. And it’s a standing up to the things we refuse to accept. It’s a story about recognizing the way things are, and creating a path to something better. It’s a story about holding onto your friends, listening to your guts, and becoming the realest deal version of your own self.
Meet the author
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Lindsey Stoddard was born and raised in Vermont where she grew up loving books, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and being outside hiking, skiing, playing soccer, making snow forts, and playing with her dogs. She lived in Washington Heights, NYC for twelve years, where she taught middle school English and earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She now resides back in Vermont with her two children, husband, and dog. The Real Deal is her fifth middle grade novel.
Social media handles:
@lindseystoddardwrites on Instagram
@LindseyStoddard on Twitter
About The Real Deal
“An absolute treasure. Vibrant, charming, and absolutely real.”—Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, author of Operation Sisterhood
Two best friends discover the danger and power of secrets in this pitch perfect standalone from the acclaimed author of Just Like Jackie and Brave Like That.
Not every friendship can be the real deal, but for Gabe and Oliver, that’s never been a question.
Until now. Things still feel the same on the surface—they’re even making a comic about their friendship—but lately Oliver’s acting like he might be hiding something.
And then there’s Reuben, the new boy who just moved to town. He doesn’t talk—not ever. The other kids say mean things and call him names behind his back. Gabe knows it isn’t right—but he and Oliver stay quiet, or worse, laugh along with the others just to keep from standing out.
Through the character he and Oliver create in their comic adventure, the experience they have babysitting twin toddlers, and with the help of a troublemaking seventh grader who gets sent to their sixth-grade class, Gabe begins to find his voice and become the realest- deal version of his own self. But if he does that—can he still hold onto his best friend, too?
Perfect for fans of Lisa Graff and Linda Mullaly Hunt, this novel from Lindsey Stoddard, whose stories were lauded as “remarkable” by the New York Times Book Reviewwill have fans new and old hooked.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/25/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post