‘Tis The Season: Authors Talk Holidays 2017 with Ashley Herring Blake

‘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 this year’s participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!


About Ashley Herring Blake

Ashley Herring Blake is a reader, writer, and mom to two boisterous boys. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and cold weather. She is the author of the young adult novels Suffer Love, How To Make A Wish, and Girl Made Of Stars (HMH), as well as the middle grade novel Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter To The World (Little, Brown).

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramTumblrGoodreads


How To Make A Christmas Wish

The snow is thick in New York City, blanketing the entire courtyard outside my dorm, sidewalks and all. I’m no stranger to cold, but damn. This is bordering on ridiculous. I tried to leave earlier, just to run down the block and get a halfway decent cup of coffee, I didn’t even make it ten feet before the snow was so heavy, I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face.

I’m officially snowed-in, so here I am, sitting on my bed at Manhattan School of Music during winter break, bored as all hell and feeling pathetically sorry for myself.

My roommate, Sasha, has escaped back to her hometown in Florida, where she’s probably lathering on the sunscreen right about now.

My best friend, Luca, is in Hawaii. Hawaii, for god’s sake. He and his older brother surprised Emmy, their mom, with a dream trip. They’ve been saving up for months. Which is great. She deserves it. But that leaves me rotting in a nearly empty dorm with nothing but stale Cheetos and Red Bull for my next meal.

Then there’s Maggie. My mom. And she’s…well. Maggie is Maggie.

I lean my head against the window and think about calling her. She’s actually doing pretty well. Sober for six months, two weeks, and three days. Not that I’m counting.

Okay, fine, I’m counting.

So yeah, she’s “working the program,” as she calls it, but when she asked me to come home to Maine for Christmas, I couldn’t do it. Not without Luca there. I’m too terrified she and I will just fall back into our old patterns. Meaning, she’ll make a mess out of our entire lives and I’ll spend every ounce of energy cleaning it up. No thanks. I’m not ready yet. Maybe by the summer, I’ll feel a little braver.

For now, I’m sulking, because not only has my best friend abandoned me for black-sand beaches and cerulean blue water, Eva is on tour for the whole holiday season.

Granted, the fact that my girlfriend is playing the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker for her small ballet company here in New York is amazing. Like, I’m so unbelievably proud of her. She’s a rock star and a half. I saw the performance last night, before her company left for Flushing this morning, and oh my god, Eva was so gorgeous. Perfect. My girlfriend is perfect. Her dark skin and hair against her delicate pink costume, her long and muscular legs, her arms that moved like feathers, her –

I squeeze my eyes shut. I’ve got to stop thinking about her. It hurts. It’s a physical ache in my chest. I won’t see her for two whole weeks. I’m not used to that. Neither is she, but she’s a hell of a lot stronger than I am. We both stay ridiculously busy during school. Between my piano rehearsals and her ballet rehearsals, regular classes, and then a few rehearsals and some more rehearsals, it makes no sense that we’ve been able to keep up our relationship. But we see each other every single day.

It’s easy. We just don’t sleep. Or we do, but I sleep in her bed or she sleeps in my bed and we have very understanding roommates.

When she kissed me goodbye last night, we pressed our foreheads together and I didn’t want to let her go. This will be her first Christmas since her mom died. It’ll be my first one without my mom too, though in a different way. We need each other right now, but I couldn’t ask her to stay. No way I could do that. She was dancing the role of her life and we both knew it.

I groan and flop onto my back. I’m about to pull the covers over my head and sleep until, oh, New Year’s Day, when my phone buzzes on my nightstand.

I grab it, heart hammering, desperate for anything from Eva. I’ll settle for a kissy-face emoji. At least then, I’ll know she’s thinking of kissing me and I can think of kissing her and, well, let’s just say my time under the covers would be much more enjoyable.

But it isn’t a text from Eva.

It’s a text from my mom.

Terrible Christmas movie alert!

What channel? I text back.

What do you think?

I grin and pop open the refurbished laptop Emmy bought me right before she and Luca moved me to New York in August. Then I go straight to the Hallmark Channel website.

What’s it called? I text.

“A Cookie-Cutter Christmas.”

Oh my god, Mom.

Two elementary school teachers duke it out during a holiday bake-off! Swoon.

JFC.

Right? Who thinks of this genius?

I snort laugh while I search through a sea of white-teethed white couples decked out in white, all promising holiday romance and cheer.

Good lord, I text.

Mom sends back the craughing emoji.

I find the cookie movie and click on it.

Ready? I text.

Ready.

Ok, hit play…now.

Done.

The opening credits roll, complete with jingly saccharine music, while I bring my computer to my bed and cocoon myself under the quilt. I keep my phone with me and Mom and I text back and forth as the cheesiest, most poorly acted, movie I’ve ever seen plays out before my eyes. It’s so bad, it’s hilarious, which is exactly why we always watch about a dozen Hallmark movies every Christmas. We snark and snipe, snuggled under a blanket on the couch in whatever house or apartment we’re living at the time, a huge bowl of popcorn between us. I usually have to remind Mom to eat some of it while she chugs a Bud Light. Or, during a bad year, she’d be downing something stronger.

You okay? I text about halfway through the movie.

Yeah, I’m great. Oh my god, can you believe that principal?

Of course I can believe it.

Oh, you Grinch. Then she sends a winking emoji, but now I can’t get rid of the knot in my stomach.

Did you eat dinner? I text.

Seriously?

Yes. Seriously.

There’s a pause while the main character tells the tall, dark, and handsome dude, “All I want for Christmas is you.” I gag and nearly laugh at the same time, and then a photo comes through on my phone. It’s a selfie of Mom in her apartment holding up a giant bowl of what looks like half-eaten pasta primavera. She’s grinning. Her hair looks clean. Her eyes look bright. I see a bottle of Vitamin Water on the coffee table in the background. I breathe a little easier.

Still eating, Mom texts.

I text her back a thumbs-up and the movie plays on. We text some more smart ass comments, but my heart’s not in it.

I want to go home.

I want to sit next to my mom and eat pasta with her and hear her laugh and then start up a second movie, during which we’ll both fall asleep.

What the hell was I thinking, staying in New York by myself? I let the movie play out, but I barely register what’s happening. I text Mom mostly emojis and when the happy couple drifts off into happily ever after-land, I tell her I’m exhausted.

Ok, baby, she texts back. I love you so, so much.

Me too.

Sweet dreams.

I turn my phone off. My throat is tight. My chest hurts, and goddammit, I know I’m about to cry. It’s my own fault. Mom wanted me home, but I told her I needed to stay at school to practice. She knew it was bullshit. She knew I was scared out of my skull, but she didn’t question me. She let me do what I needed to do, which, yeah, was probably the right move, but dammit, this sucks.

I close my laptop and set it on my nightstand. Then I sink under my covers even more and wish for sleep, wish for Mom to be okay, wish for –

Knock, knock, knock.

I freeze and my heart leaps into my throat. Who the hell? It’s nearly one in the morning.

I shove my covers off and get up, grumbling the whole way to the door because I know it’s Sophia from down the hall, who’s asked to borrow my flat iron at least three times a week for the last four months.

Then I remember she’s gone home too, which at least gives my hair styling tools a damn break.

I fling open the door, ready to rip whoever it is a new one, but all I see is a flash of a puffy red coat before a pair of arms grab me and yank me forward.

“Eva?” I breathe.

“Who else?” she says, her arms still around my neck. I’m breathing hard, my own arms dead from shock at my sides.

“Am I hallucinating?”

She grins and pulls away enough to look at me. Her dark cheeks are tinged red from the cold and her hair is a curly mess under her knit cap. Snow dusts her coat, melting quickly.

“Pretty great hallucination if so, huh?” she asks.

“What? How? Why?” I splutter as she backs us into my room and shuts the door with her foot, all without letting me go.

“Snowed out. We couldn’t get out of the city, though we tried all afternoon. Flushing’s a mess too.”

“Holy shit, are you really here?”

She frowns at me, then pulls off her gloves and touches my face. Her fingers wipe away tears I didn’t even know were there.

“Gracie.”

That’s it. That’s all she had to say and now I’m really crying. I’m talking full, embarrassing waterworks.

“Hey,” she says, but I shake my head.

“I’m okay,” I choke out.

“This is okay?” She swipes off more tears.

“This is fucking fabulous.”

She smiles and I’m still crying a little, but I don’t care. I’ve never been so damn happy. I pull the cream-colored scarf from around her neck and toss it in a corner, then I unzip her coat. I tug it off while she laughs, but I need this thing off her. I need her warmth, her smell.

I slip my arms around her waist, under the NYU sweatshirt she has on so I can feel her skin, and pull her right up against me.

“I missed you,” I say, my mouth brushing hers.

“I’ve never been so thankful for snow in all my life,” she says, lifting my shirt and pulling it over my head. My girl does not mess around.

Soon, I’m back under my covers, but not alone. Our legs tangle, our hands explore, our mouths kiss and whisper.

Later, in the dark, I tell Eva about Mom and the abysmal Hallmark movie.

“Oh my god,” she says, twining her fingers with mine and squeezing so hard it almost hurts.

“What?”

“I…we…my mom and me. We did the same thing.”

“Are you serious?”

She nods and heaves a shuddering breath. I thread my hands through her hair and press my forehead to hers. I don’t try to calm her. I know she needs to cry.

After she settles a bit, I grab my laptop and set it up on my legs. She lays her head on my shoulder while I push play on a terrible Hallmark movie. Except this time, Eva and I add our own little tradition. I reach over to my nightstand and open the bottom drawer, pulling out two spoons and a jar of peanut butter.

Title Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter To The World
Author Ashley Herring Blake
Pages 320 Pages
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Genre Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
To Be Published March 6th 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

In the wake of a destructive tornado, one girl develops feelings for another in this stunning, tender novel about emerging identity, perfect for fans of The Thing About Jellyfish.

When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen’s house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm – and what’s worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing.

Mysteriously, Ivy’s drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks – and hopes – that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings?

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter To The World exquisitely enriches the rare category of female middle-grade characters who like girls – and children’s literature at large.

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