‘Tis The Season: Authors Talk Holidays 2016 With Brenda Rufener

‘Tis The Season: Authors Talk Holidays is a special seasonal feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which some of my favourite authors help me to celebrate the spirit of the season and spread a little holiday cheer. So, pour yourself a cup of hot chocolate and snuggle in by the fireside as they answer the question: “What does the holiday season mean to you?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!


About Brenda Rufener

Brenda Rufener spent her childhood stomping through the woods of Oregon, most likely in search of Bigfoot or a quiet place to read. She studied English at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington (yes–the town really exists) and today lives with her family in North Carolina’s capital city. Her debut young adult novel, Where I Live, is planned for publication early 2018 by HarperTeen/HarperCollins.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreads


Christmas Past

As a kid, the first hints of the holiday season were big boxes of navel oranges arriving from Arizona relatives I’d never met, plates of caramelized popcorn balls piled sky-high, and me begging my grandfather to share that story. The one he hated to tell.

“Please, Papa. Tell me why. I have to know. Were you on the naughty list?”

It wasn’t until I was older that I’d connect the dots. You see, when my papa was seven, he rose early Christmas morning and ran to the front room before brothers or sisters stirred. His family couldn’t afford a Christmas tree, but who needed tradition when your hopes reached the clouds?

Candy, gum, peanuts. His expectations soared.

He scanned the room, searching for something out of place. Dug his hands in a couch cushion, lifted a corner of carpet that had slipped from its metal threshold, even opened the oven door in search of something left by that mythical guy wrapped in red that he wished was real, but in front of his older brothers pretended to discredit. He wasn’t expecting much from his parents, with nine mouths to feed and constant arguments over money, but he couldn’t help himself from bubbling with hope and possibility.

Nothing was on the table that didn’t belong, but along the windowsill – the one lined with staples and a grey sheet of plastic to keep the cold out – were stockings, in the most literal sock-like sense of the word. Tacked to the wall boasting last week’s wear and tear.

“What was in your sock, Papa?” I’d ask at age five, six, seven, and eight. I already knew the answer but I needed to hear it, again and again.

He’d twirl his thumbs and scratch an itch that didn’t exist, clear his throat, and say, “Not a darn thing, honey. Guess I made the naughty list.”

As a child, I couldn’t comprehend the idea of someone with nothing for Christmas. What horrible thing had my grandfather done as a kid to put him on the naughty list? On repeat, I’d ask how, what, why? These questions were critical; after all, I needed to avoid that damn list.

My grandfather never answered my questions. He just shrugged and squeezed my hand. “You have nothing to worry about,” he’d say, eyes smiling.

I grew older, less naïve. As soon as my grandfather would leave the room, I’d interrogate my grandma. “Why does he always say he made the naughty list? We all know that isn’t true.”

My grandmother would toss a dishtowel at the sink, shake her head and fight a tear. Her heart broke, too. It was hard to think of someone we loved with nothing.

Five years would pass and my grandfather would turn twelve. He’d witness something horrible. He’d stand up to protect his sister. He’d be thrown out of his house and live homeless, working 18-hour shifts in a cotton gin, until he stockpiled enough money to rent a room in a barn. He’d have nothing in his stocking for a very long time.

But later, he’d start a business, raise a family, and become the person I loved and admired. The one who’d map the whereabouts of local giving trees a few days before Christmas, and always take me with him. He’d remind me to hurry, to not leave one tag on the branch, and most importantly, he’d make me promise not to tell anyone where we were headed or what we were about to do. Our town was the size of a pinhole, and in tiny towns people talk. Everyone knew everyone, and the last thing my grandfather wanted was to shine a light on the needs of friends or acquaintances.

We’d scurry into the local banks, grocery store, and other places of business to un-decorate their giving trees. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were stuffing into our pockets the names of children who might wake up with nothing in their stocking. Then, we’d race for the hardware store where three aisles of toys lined the back wall.

“Who are all these presents for, Papa?” I’d ask at a young age when I still had trouble connecting the dots.

He’d pile toys into our cart and scratch that non-existent itch again. He’d push back tears but never cry. He’d just clear his throat and say, “That darn naughty list.”

Title Where I Live
Author Brenda Rufener
Pages N/A
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
To Be Published 2018 by HarperCollins
Find It On Goodreads

Linden Rose lives by three rules:
1. Never carry too many belongings.
2. Prevent the in-class nap.
3. Avoid looking the part.

Her rules make sure no one discovers her story: that she’s homeless and secretly living in the halls of her high school. The stress of it all is enough to break anyone down.

Her best friends Ham and Seung, writing her school’s blog, and the promise of a future far away are what keep Linden under the radar and moving towards her goals. But when cool-girl Bea comes to school with a bloody lip, the damage hits closer to home than Linden would like to admit. Linden starts looking more closely at Bea’s relationship with her boyfriend, and soon her investigation causes people to pay more attention to her. And attention is the last thing Linden needs.

Linden knows the only way to put a stop to the violence is to tell the story. Even if that means jeopardizing the secrets she’s worked so hard to keep.

An evocative debut novel, Linden’s story is one that speaks to the triumph of hope over adversity, friends becoming like family, and of finding one’s place in the world, no matter the obstacles.

2 responses to “‘Tis The Season: Authors Talk Holidays 2016 With Brenda Rufener”

  1. Alexa S. says:

    Oh, this post is so, so heartwarming to read. Thank you so much for sharing, Brenda! Your grandfather is a wonderful man <3
    Alexa S. recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: 2016 DiscoveriesMy Profile

  2. Oh, thank you, Alexa! This is so sweet of you to say. It was gut-wrenching to write, but so glad I could share his story. Happy holidays!

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