Letting Go of Gravity

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About The Book

“The anticipation and slow burn of Parker and Finn’s relationship is electric…[an] absorbing novel that will appeal to fans of Rainbow Rowell.” —Booklist

Parker struggles to reconnect with her twin brother, Charlie—who’s recovering from cancer—as she tries to deal with her anxiety about the future in this powerful new novel.

Twins Parker and Charlie are polar opposites.
Where Charlie is fearless, Parker is careful.
Charlie is confident while Parker aims to please.
Charlie is outgoing and outspoken; Parker is introverted and reserved.
And of course, there’s the one other major difference: Charlie got cancer. Parker didn’t.

But now that Charlie is officially in remission, life couldn’t be going better for Parker. She’s landed a prestigious summer internship at the hospital and is headed to Harvard in the fall to study pediatric oncology—which is why the anxiety she’s felt since her Harvard acceptance is so unsettling. And it doesn’t help that her relationship with Charlie has been on the rocks since his diagnosis.

Enter Finn, a boy who’s been leaving strange graffiti messages all over town. Parker can’t stop thinking about those messages, or about Finn, who makes her feel free for the first time: free to doubt, free to make mistakes, and free to confront the truth that Parker has been hiding from for a long time.

That she keeps trying to save Charlie, when the person who really needs saving is herself.

Excerpt

Letting Go of Gravity

One
I CLEAR MY THROAT, one hand white-knuckling the edge of the podium, the other at my side, and remind myself I’m almost done. And it has gone perfectly—my voice clear, not too fast, not too slow, pauses just right.

I’ve practiced this end part so much, my body is on autopilot now. I hear the words come out of my mouth independently of me actually reading the typed pages: “And so, my fellow graduates, in conclusion, I leave you today with the immortal words of Lord Alfred Tennyson from his poem ‘Ulysses.’ ”

And then, like habit, like breath, I look for Charlie, eyes darting to the row where he should be sitting.

I only see Christine Miller, intently focused on searching for split ends in her platinum-blond hair, legs crossed, impatiently tapping one stabby-looking high heel in front of her.

My eyes scan the crowd.

I meet Em’s eyes, her wild blond hair a beacon amid blown-out highlighted waves, as she tugs at her necklace, smiling at me. Next to her, her cousin Matty gives me a reassuring thumbs-up.

No Charlie.

To the side, my parents. Dad—his grin so big, it looks like his whole body is in on the smile—and next to him, Mom, her love quieter, a low-level steady recurring pulse of warmth.

I still don’t see my brother.

Principal Taylor clears her throat from behind me, and I realize my pause is too long.

“Lord Alfred Tennyson from his poem ‘Ulysses,’ ” I repeat, trying to recapture my momentum.

But it’s like someone’s unplugged my speech, the words flickering to a black screen.

I can’t believe Charlie’s not here. I can’t believe he didn’t come at all.

I feel my grip sliding, my bottom right eyelid starting to twitch. I glance down at my one hand on the podium, and I’m not sure it’s connected to me, that it’s even mine anymore, and I miss it.

“Parker?” Principal Taylor says from behind me, touching my elbow, and I realize everyone’s waiting for me, that anyone who wasn’t paying attention before certainly is now.

“Sorry,” I say, shaking my head and looking up, putting on a smile that isn’t really mine.

“And so, my fellow graduates, in conclusion, I leave you today with the immortal words of Lord Alfred Tennyson from his poem ‘Ulysses.’ ”

My finger shakes slightly as I trace the typed pages in front of me, and my bottom right eyelid is still twitching, but I force my voice to be steady, reminding myself I worked hard for this moment, that it’s all mine.

“Though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find—”

And then, when I’m within four words of being done, a loud “Vroom vroom!” bursts into the air from the left side of the auditorium.

It stills everyone and everything, even me.

I see her: a dark-haired little girl, squatting in the aisle, gleefully running a toy car around on the floor.

The whole crowd shifts like they’re waking up, adults smiling, people from my class laughing.

An older woman leans into the aisle, jerks the child’s arm, and shushes her.

The little girl starts to cry, a wail echoing through the auditorium, and a man—probably her dad—scoops her up, heads toward the exit.

I stop, close my eyes, listen as the cry gets fainter.

In front of me, there are 233 fellow seniors in bright-red polyester gowns, and I don’t have anything real to say to them—not anything they care about, not anything that’s mine.

I’m just quoting some words from a dead white guy.

I wish I had something of my own to say. Something totally new—words that no one in the entire history of the world has ever said before, a sentiment that is totally and perfectly and particularly mine.

But I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

I open my eyes and finally see him, right under the exit sign.

Charlie.

My twin, my other half, cohabitant of our mom’s womb, older by six and a half minutes, the person in the world whose DNA is the closest to mine.

Except my blood cells have always been orderly, behaved, healthy.

The light makes the brown fuzz of his newly grown-in hair look even softer.

He’s leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, legs forever too long for whatever space he’s in, his face unreadable from where I’m standing, and I wonder when we lost each other.

“ ‘—And not to yield’?” I finally say, making it a question.

There’s an excruciating silence, everyone waiting because they’re not sure it’s the end of the speech—who ends an inspiring poem with a question? Tennyson didn’t, that’s for sure—but then Emerson starts clapping like she thinks I’m Oprah Winfrey and the Dalai Lama all in one, and then more people join in, and I step back, let out a long exhale, finishing up quite possibly the worst conclusion to a valedictorian speech in the history of valedictorian speeches.

Principal Taylor steps to the podium and thanks me, and I smile hard, because right now my teeth have a mind of their own and if I don’t, I’m pretty sure they’ll start chattering and never stop.

Sitting on a folding chair on the side of the stage, I tighten my hands in my lap, listening to Principal Taylor talking about this year’s class of graduates—all the scholarships we’ve won, all the marvelous places we’re going, the incredible adults we’re becoming.

I pretend to listen, but really I’m promising myself that if I see Charlie again, everything—this summer, college, med school, my life—will be okay.

When I look back at the exit sign, he’s gone.

About The Author

Photograph by Meg Leder

A former bookseller and teacher, Meg Leder currently works as a book editor in New York City. Her role models are Harriet the Spy and Anne Shirley. She is the author of Letting Go of GravityThe Museum of Heartbreak, the coauthor of The Happy Book, and spends her free time reading, looking for street art, and people watching. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can visit her website at MegLeder.com or find her on Twitter @MegLeder.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon Pulse (July 2018)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534403161
  • Grades: 7 and up
  • Ages: 12 - 99

Raves and Reviews

"A gorgeous, sad, funny, and wise book about letting go and finding your place in the world. Meg Leder has written a story about a brother and sister that will break your heart and have you whispering 'I got you' long after you've closed the book."

– Kathleen Glasgow, New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Pieces

Parker McCullough has just graduated as valedictorian, but the moment is bittersweet. Her twin brother, Charlie, is not sitting with their class, instead repeating his senior year thanks to his leukemia. Charlie isn't sure how to handle life after remission, and Parker isn't sure how to handle a future she doesn't want. Sure, she worked her butt off to get into Harvard and land that prestigious internship at Cincinnati Children's Hospital—but now the thought of becoming a doctor makes her feel sick. Fortunately, Ruby, a rising junior, becomes Parker's new friend, and she reconnects with childhood classmate Finn, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Talking to Finn makes her brave enough to do what she wants, leaving the internship and working at a pottery studio, where, like clay on a wheel, she finally starts to take shape. These lifelike characters are perfectly imperfect in the face of their own challenges, whether that is physical abuse, cancer, or internal emotional struggles, with none presented as being of greater value than any other. Parker's best friend Emerson is a lesbian, and Parker suffers from anxiety. Major characters are white other than Ruby, who is African-American, and there is ethnic diversity in the community. For readers who love and appreciate a good coming-of-age story, a realistic romance, and a novel where every character gets to be a hero. (Fiction. 14-adult) 

– Kirkus, 5/1/18

“A poignant and carefully crafted story….  A compelling coming-of-age novel sure to appeal to those who love realistic fiction.” 

– School Library Journal

“Effectively shows how illness affects families and how a person can get stuck acting out a persona and end up knowing very little about herself.”

– Publishers Weekly

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