Home is the Place
It seems like yesterday that my editor at Scholastic, David Levithan, approached me with an idea for a four-book series telling an intergenerational family story. He suggested that the stories be told through the eyes of the women in the family, with each book being narrated by the eldest daughter of the previous narrator. The characters, plot, and setting would be up to me to create. I was excited about the chance to develop characters that I could follow through the books. One of my first decisions was that each chapter would describe one single but significant day in the narrator's life. I felt that this would allow readers to see the characters in a series of snapshots over the course of many years, as if turning the pages in a photo album.
While outlining the four stories, I decided that the final book would be set in the present, which meant that the first narrator would need to be born about a hundred years earlier. Chapter One in Family Tree #1, Better to Wish, begins in Lewisport, Maine, in 1930, with eight-year-old Abby Nichols excited about attending a traveling fair with her sister Rose. In Family Tree #2, The Long Way Home, the setting changes to New York City in the 1950s and 60s, with Abby's daughter Dana narrating. My hometown of Princeton, New Jersey, in the 1970s is the setting for Family Tree #3, Best Kept Secret, the story of Dana's daughter Francie. With the recent publication of Family Tree #4, Home is the Place, Francie's daughter Georgia brings the story back to where it began, in Lewisport, Maine.
Always over-protective, Georgia's mother Francie decides that the only way to keep her family safe is to leave Princeton and return to the cottage in Maine where her grandmother Abby grew up. Seven-year-old Georgia easily adapts to life in this quiet town, attending the same elementary school that her great-grandmother Abby attended when she was a girl. When Georgia is eleven, she discovers five journals written by Abby's mother Nell (Georgia's great-great-grandmother), hidden in a wall in the cottage. The first journal begins in 1917, and the last one ends in 1938, shortly before Nell's death. Georgia reads the final journal first and is shocked by what she learns. Not knowing what else to do, she puts the journals back in their hiding place and keeps their discovery a secret from everyone.
What Georgia doesn't know is that her mother Francie has a secret of her own that has haunted her since she was nine years old. And Francie doesn't know that her mother Dana has secrets that have shaped her life. Dana's mother Abby reflects on the power that secrets can have: "The things hidden and the things unsaid that sometimes cause more trouble and more grief as the years pile up, more than the things brought out into the sunshine for all to see."
Abby's reflection aptly describes the toll that years of secrecy can take on a family. In Home is the Place, secrets are revealed, some almost a hundred years old, bringing understanding and compassion where there was once fear and alienation.
I enjoyed writing about these four complicated, talented, unusual women - although I'm particularly fond of Abby. Her character starts the narrative, and I relished following her life until her one-hundredth birthday. The settings in the four books also have special meaning to me. My grandparents spent many summers in Maine, and our family loved our visits there. Princeton is the town of my birth and childhood, and New York City became my home when I set out on my own after college. Setting the final story where the series began made perfect sense to me. Readers of the series may enjoy comparing the covers of the books. Pay attention to the trees on the covers! On book #1 great-grandmother Abby is a little girl leaning against a tree by a lighthouse, and seventy-three years later, her great-granddaughter Georgia is leaning against the now-mature tree. Generations apart, years gone by, but the hopes, dreams and aspirations remaining constant.
First Abby, then Dana, and then Francie; now it's time for Georgia to tell her story.