‘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 Lauren Karcz
Lauren Karcz is a fan of new books, old dogs, long sentences, Broadway shows, adverbs, and wandering art museums. She’s a professional language nerd, having worked as an ESL teacher, a language test developer, and now as a writer. Lauren lives with her family in Atlanta. Her debut novel, The Gallery Of Unfinished Girls, is coming from HarperCollins / HarperTeen on July 25, 2017.
That Christmas Duet
The music was cued up. The lights were positioned and blazing. We were struck in our opening positions – arms above heads, one foot flat on the floor, the other raised and with a toe pointed, waiting.
“Let me hit play,” I said, attempting to hold my pose while staggering over to the cardboard box of old Time magazines where the tape player was balanced.
I pressed the button. And we were off, my sister and me, flinging ourselves into the sometimes-choreographed, sometimes-improvised numbers in our annual Christmas Dancing Show. The music for this occasion changed a bit every year, though it tended to start with a two-song cassette tape from Burger King (the songs interrupted by a commercial about Fred Flintstone ordering a Whopper, or something similarly ridiculous), followed by a tape of Christmas songs that our mom had plucked from a dollar bin at the local hardware store. We eventually replaced that with the early 90s synthy soft-rock stylings of Mannheim Steamroller, and sometimes the Home Alone 2: Lost In New York soundtrack.
But the setting was always the same – the small unfinished room in our basement, all the boxes and suitcases and old toys cleared to the edges. I was nine, ten, eleven, twelve, and usually wearing leggings and Keds. We lit the place with old flashlights from Girl Scout camping excursions. And we practiced on pretty much the same schedule my sister had for her dance class or I had for my choral concert: starting in the early fall, we’d sit in the basement with our music collections, and I’d probably have one of my many notebooks out.
“What’s the music gonna be this year?” I’d ask, as though I hadn’t already filled a few pages with possible song lists.
And my sister, three years younger than me, would shrug, and maybe toss the Burger King tape at me, as though she was going along with tradition and it didn’t really matter if we did the show.
But it mattered.
Because we always did the show.
We selected the music, and we figured out who’d be the lead dancer on each song, and then we practiced. We practiced after school in November, and on weekends in early December, and all of this was building to something. The afternoons and evenings got darker and we added more flashlights and I attempted some choreography for the Mannheim Steamroller “Deck the Halls” and my sister got pretty into her exaggerated lip-synching of “The Night Before Christmas” on the Burger King tape.
And then it was Christmas Eve. The debut of the full show. Possibly delayed by, depending on our family’s level of religious devotion that year, a candlelight service at a church where we were strangers.
The show was always cozy and familiar and nervewracking all at once.
I put on my Keds.
We turned on the flashlights.
I hit play on the music.
We faced the audience — the empty white couch that sat under the basement window, dusty and benign, filling in for five hundred or five thousand people. I didn’t realize until years later that the basement was not exactly soundproofed, that our parents were upstairs probably hearing the whole thing, tiring of those same songs played night after night, my mom amused that her tape from the dollar bin had provided us with so much entertainment (and so much time for her to wrap gifts or to read). They never saw the show, nor did anyone else. But they heard our joy and energy.
And downstairs, we were wrapped up in it. The exuberance of movement. The thrill of being able to sift through an old song, find a new rhythm or melody, and find a place to twirl. My sister and her lip-synching. My never hitting that note on “O Holy Night” but turning it into a space for a dance solo. Our Christmas show, always sold out, always rave-reviewed. Always danced to perfection by the only two girls who would ever see it.
Title The Gallery Of Unfinished Girls
Author Lauren Karcz
Pages 352 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary
Published July 25th, 2017 by HarperTeen
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon.com ● Chapters ● The Book Depository
Mercedes Moreno is an artist. At least, she thinks she could be, even though she hasn’t been able to paint anything worthwhile since her award-winning piece Food Poisoning #1 last year.
Her lack of inspiration might be because her abuela is lying comatose in faraway Puerto Rico after suffering a stroke. Or the fact that Mercedes is in love with her best friend, Victoria, but is too afraid to admit her true feelings.
Despite Mercedes’s creative block, art starts to show up in unexpected ways. A piano appears on her front lawn one morning, and a mysterious new neighbor invites Mercedes to paint with her at the Red Mangrove Estate.
At the Estate, Mercedes can create in ways she never has before. She can share her deepest secrets and feel safe. But Mercedes can’t take anything out of the Estate, including her new-found clarity. As her life continues to crumble around her, the Estate offers more solace than she could hope for. But Mercedes can’t live both lives forever, and ultimately she must choose between this perfect world of art and truth and a much messier reality.