Title: FOLLOW THE SUN
Entry Title: Nowhere Land
Word Count: 78,000
Genre: #ownvoices historical YA (MC is biracial w/ black father, white mother)
In 1969, Rett syndrome is unheard of. But come hell or high water, Jackie is determined to discover the reason why her four-year-old sister, Evie, suddenly lost the ability to speak and control her hands. Her parents accept their small town doctor’s generic diagnosis that Evie was born with physical and mental impairments and will remain “slow” her entire life. Jackie doesn’t buy it. Evie wasn’t born that way; she regressed just before turning two. So, Jackie spends months secretly mailing letters to various doctors around the country, convinced that if she can find one expert with a possible explanation for Evie’s symptoms, it will force her parents down a path toward determining the cause.
That’s a lot to handle for a seventeen-year-old, though, and no amount of getting drunk with her flower child friends, flirting with a guy who’s caught her eye, or fighting with her June Cleaver-ish mother keeps Evie’s condition from constantly gnawing away at the back of Jackie’s mind. When she finally hears of a doctor in Austria who might have an answer to the riddle that is Evie, Jackie’s world begins to brighten. But, Evie’s disability becomes too much for her mother and father to handle, and they make plans to institutionalize her in another state.
Disgusted with her parents’ cruel plan, Jackie takes off on a planned trip to the Woodstock music festival with her friends. What they don’t know, however, is that she has no intention of returning with them. If Evie won’t be in Everton, Jackie can’t be either. But, the guilt of leaving weighs heavily on her mind. As Woodstock ends, Jackie must decide to find a new life elsewhere or return home to advocate for her sister and fight her parents in a decision she knows is not hers to make.
Written as a series of flashbacks during Jackie’s time at Woodstock, FOLLOW THE SUN brings attention to Rett syndrome, a rare and debilitating genetic neurological disorder discovered in 1966 that, as Jackie discovers, has no known cure. The search for an accurate diagnosis affects every single member of a family. This is a frustration I know all too well, as my own daughter, originally misdiagnosed with autism, was finally correctly diagnosed with Rett syndrome when she was three. This is also an #ownvoices manuscript, as Jackie and I are both biracial.
Woodstock Music & Art Fair, August 1969
Day One – Late Afternoon
I inhale the scents of lost inhibitions disguised as weed and booze. They’re so thick it’s as if I can reach out and touch them; literally get a contact high. After hours of waiting, the music’s finally starting. For most, time has no place here. You simply exist. It is today. The time is now. And it’s all good. But my mind flickers like the flashes of a camera between photos of the before and the after. The past and the present. The agony that brought me to this point and where it might lead me in the future.
Between Evie and this field full of strangers.
The odors surrounding me vanish, replaced by the memory of more comforting aromas: cookies and apple juice. I smile, in spite of myself. But those thoughts angle my mind toward others that curdle my stomach, like Evie at the supper table with my parents, her hands wringing all over themselves. I’m not there as I should be, and she doesn’t understand why. The image of her face in my head makes each beat of my heart push my chest one notch higher on my personal threshold of pain. Like some great chasm has cracked along my sternum, leaking a burning fire through the rest of my body.
I ache to see her, but I can’t go back home. Not after what I found out. Not after what I learned.