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The Law of Loving Others

The Law of Loving Others

by Kate Axelrod


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“Kate Axelrod’s atmospheric, intense book captures perfectly the heady feeling of being on the edge of adulthood, when the abstract concept of ‘love’ starts to have real and sometimes terrifying meaning and consequences.” – Emily Gould, author of Friendship 

Emma returns home from boarding school anticipating a quiet winter break hanging out with friends and taking trips into the city to visit her new boyfriend, Daniel. But when she arrives, she discovers that her mother has been hospitalized after suffering a schizophrenic break—and it's not the first time. Emma's life is immediately thrown into chaos as an ill-equipped Daniel starts to become emotionally distant, and Emma begins to question her own mental health. 
Then, Emma meets Phil, whose brother is in the same rehabilitation center as Emma's mother, and who understands what Emma is going through better than anyone else. As their connection deepens, Emma finds comfort in Phil, but she also worries that their shared sadness is only making her spiral further. 

A profound and classic coming-of-age novel, THE LAW OF LOVING OTHERS follows Emma's heart-wrenching journey as she discovers what it means to love others—and herself—unconditionally.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595147905
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/05/2016
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Kate Axelrod was born and raised in New York City. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Oberlin College and a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University. She has written for, Salon and various other publications. She lives in Brooklyn and works as an advocate in the criminal justice system. This is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt


IT was a Friday in the middle of December, the day after Daniel and I had finished our finals, and we were leaving Pennsylvania for New York. The sky was heavy and gray as we left campus and drove toward town, which was mostly quiet. At the second traffic light, I jumped out and ran into a coffee shop on the corner. I grabbed two hot coffees and a chocolate croissant stuffed into a waxy paper bag for us to share. It had snowed earlier in the week and the bare branches were still covered in a sheath of ice. Winter in Pennsylvania was bleak, but still there was something beautiful in its nearly silent emptiness. We drove south toward the interstate, past miles of fields punctuated with farm houses, small squares of red in the distance—an easy calm before the suburban rush of Walmarts and Olive Gardens and vast parking lot after parking lot.

We’d only driven a handful of miles when I turned toward Daniel and kissed his shoulder.

“Daniel? I think I have to pee. I’m sorry. I know we just left, but I do . . .”

“Okay, it’s fine. We have like a quarter of a tank left anyway. We’ll stop when it runs out. Like an hour and a half?”

“Are you kidding?” I asked. “I can’t tell if you’re kidding or not.”

“I’m kidding,” he said and he smiled, displaying a bottom row of crowded teeth. Daniel had told me recently—after I’d commented on how endearing I’d found them, a rare imperfection in his otherwise flawless face—that he’d somehow persuaded his parents and orthodontist to remove his braces several months early, because he refused to start ninth grade with all that clunky metal attached to his teeth. I’d loved hearing this about him, and how assertive he had been even then, at fourteen, when I’d been at the peak of my own insecurity.

“You weren’t kidding! You’re such an asshole.”

Daniel slid his right hand between my legs. “It’s so cold,” he said. “Warm me up. And yes, of course I’m kidding, but if you want”—he gestured backward with a twist of his neck—“there’s an empty Snapple bottle back there. You want?”

“Okay sure, no problem.” I reached behind the front seat and leaned over to grab the Snapple bottle. I unbuttoned my jeans and began to unzip my fly but then stopped, smiled at him.

“I dare you,” Daniel said.

“Well, if you dare me . . .”

“Double dare you,” he said.

Double Dare! Remember that show?”

“Of course. I used to watch those reruns all the time. When I was little, all I wanted to do was get covered in those buckets of green slime.”

“If we get married, can we try to go on Family Double Dare together?”

“Yes!” Daniel said. “They’ll have to bring it back on the air. That can be our honeymoon, straight to Universal Studios. So romantic.”

We had been dating for about four months—the entire first semester of my junior year, which, in the strange, warped way that time moved in boarding school, felt significant. We’d sat next to each other the first day of our American history class, and then exchanged a flurry of e-mails before hanging out one night after school, in the beginning of September. Daniel had somehow managed to procure a bottle of whiskey, and we sat on a patch of grass behind my dorm, took long sips from the stout, amber bottle. We played this game called “Eye-rhymes” where you have to think of two words that were spelled the same but sounded different. Daughter and laughter. Rough and dough. Good and food. We alternated back and forth until Daniel was tipsy and I was drunk and could no longer think of appropriate pairs, and then I began demanding all sorts of word play from him.

“Anagrams, go!”

“Oh, I know this one. How about wolf and fowl?”

“Way to go!” I said. Then, “Homophones!”

“Pear and pair,” Daniel offered.


“Fair and fare.”

“Look at you!” I said.

“Mail and male.”

“You. Are. Amazing. Can I tell you a story?”

“Please,” Daniel said.

I sat up and rearranged myself so that I was sitting cross-legged, facing him. “When I was in second grade, we were having a homonym lesson, homophones, whatever they’re called. And the teacher kept asking us to give examples. And I shot my hand up, so excited, and said ‘version and virgin.’ I mean, what was I talking about? I was seven!”

“What a racy second-grader.”

“I know. I really was.”

I took a slow sip of whiskey, and when I was done, we made eye contact for a brief moment before he kissed me. It was only an instant, but still I was struck with that dizzying feeling: something is happening. Something important is happening to me right now.

DANIEL was a junior also, but he’d been at Oak Hill Friends since ninth grade, and I had transferred as a sophomore. He was from Manhattan and had a certain laid-back way about him—he was confident and self-possessed and made me feel at ease, too. Transferring in as a sophomore had been a difficult thing—the rush and eagerness of freshman year had subsided, and students no longer roamed around in packs trying to stave off loneliness, or the fear of upperclassmen. I had gone back and forth about going away to school, conflicted because this wasn’t the sort of thing anyone in my family had ever done (we were a family of worriers, overprotective, anxious, and on a more superficial level, we weren’t the sort who carried the monogrammed tote bags or wore the Patagonia fleeces that screamed prep school). But I’d also been nurturing a fixation on boarding school since the beginning of seventh grade, when I spent one rainy October afternoon watching a marathon on TBS that included Dead Poets Society and School Ties. Even as Brendan Fraser’s Jewish character was cruelly snubbed by his blue-blood classmates, I felt myself longing for that sort of prep school life. It was then that I began to romanticize the idea of boarding school: the old dining halls ornamented with delicate chandeliers and bronze plaques, the libraries with arched ceilings, long cherry-wood tables, and stained glass windows. It was all so sophisticated in a way that I was not. I even idealized the loneliness—imagined myself staying in on a Friday night, immersed in some nineteenth-century British novel or writing away about a depressed confessional poet.

Once ninth grade began (and all its complicated politics), anything was more appealing than the boredom I felt at my suburban high school—a boredom that seemed to be the worst kind of ordinary despondency. I was tired of being held hostage to the younger version of myself, who had never gotten below an A on an exam, had never clashed with anybody. And so it wasn’t until then that I felt more ready, less hesitant, to even apply.

But still, by the beginning of eleventh grade, I wasn’t entirely happy at Oak Hill, hadn’t fallen into a group of friends in a way that felt organic and right, and meeting Daniel had added a sort of welcome levity to my life at school. It was as if suddenly my life was there. My mind was no longer elsewhere, counting the days until I could go back to Westchester and see my friends from home, waiting eagerly for small holiday weekends and other excuses to leave campus.

Of course there were still times when I had my doubts about Daniel; it wasn’t as though things were perfect between us. As I’d told my friend Annie on the phone, he wasn’t a reader—and that was a potential issue—and sometimes he’d cancel plans with me so he and his friends could get fucked up and do crazy stuff like light old furniture on fire, and why was he so obsessed with ice luges? But I liked how unpretentious he was, so uninterested in posturing about writers or philosophers, especially compared to other people at Oak Hill. Once I’d walked into the locker room after swim class and two girls, while peeling off their navy Speedos, were arguing about who was the hottest of some eighteenth-century philosophers (I only dimly recognized their names, but I remember that David Hume was the pronounced winner). Daniel didn’t take himself too seriously, and mostly he just made me laugh. He was a wonderful companion and my chest ached when I left him after lunch to go to class. Heartburn! I would say, and this became our thing, always giving each other little packets of Tums as parting gifts. Heartburn!

WE drove east on I-80, hitting pockets of traffic, people slowing down when the roads were windy and sharply curved, especially cautious of the snow packed into the mountains to the east. In the fall, driving home for Thanksgiving had been a beautiful trip; the foliage along the interstate was so bright—deep orange-and-red leaves ornamenting the otherwise dull and unchanging stretches of highway. But that day, in the middle of December, everything cloaked in white, the trees and brush blurred into a single graying landscape.

By the time we hit the New Jersey border, both of us were restless and bored. We’d been playing “Fuck, Marry, Kill” for twenty exits, and had used up everyone we knew from school, everyone we’d already made out with, plus some obvious celebrities.

“Okay, we need to get a little more creative,” I said. “Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s.”

“Should proximity to the highway have any bearing on my decision?”

“Nope, just go.”

“Okay, then I guess I’d kill Wendy’s, fuck McDonald’s, and marry Burger King,” Daniel said.

“Really? Fascinating. Okay, New York Times, New Yorker, New York magazine.”

“Oh god, that’s hard. Okay, I guess I’d fuck New York mag, kill the New Yorker, and marry the New York Times.”

“What! That makes no sense. Obviously you should kill New York magazine, fuck the New Yorker, and marry the New York Times.” That I even knew the distinction between these magazines was something novel—the Oak Hill library received the New Yorker each week, and though I hadn’t ever read it at home, it was something I looked forward to at school, a way to keep up with my peers who always seemed to know a little bit more than I did about esoteric writers and high-brow intellectuals.

“Sorry, Em, no can do.”

“Of course you’d fuck New York magazine.”

“I almost don’t want to even ask you what that means,” Daniel said.

“You’d sleep with anyone with a glossy cover.”

“That makes no sense,” he said, “and actually, I have a weird feeling you’re getting jealous about this.”

“Not this,” I said. (I was jealous, always. I tried to control it but every time he looked at his texts and I saw his inbox filled with messages from Lily, Jen, or Vicky, I’d feel my stomach tense up, filled with the fear, the anticipation, of infidelity.)

“I’m sorry that you think I’ve slept with everyone in the world, but you just have to get over it. It’s not like you were a virgin when we met.”

“I basically was.”

“That’s not a thing . . . You either were or you weren’t. And you weren’t! You lost your virginity when you were fifteen too.”

“Yeah, but that was with my boyfriend. I’ve never had like, ‘casual’ sex.” The very nature and meaning of that phrase was not something I really understood or felt connected to. I wondered if there would be a time when such an expression would just roll off my tongue, when I would be able to say honestly, in an offhand way, oh yeah I slept with that guy one time, it was nothing.

“Okay, I’m not indulging you anymore. Enough! You want me to kick you out onto the highway?” Daniel said.

“Okay, I’m sorry!” I unbuckled my seatbelt for a moment, leaned over to kiss his neck, the side of his face.

“All right, let’s get back to the wholesome stuff. Here are your choices, regular bacon, turkey bacon, soy bacon.”

WE made a list of the things we wanted to do in the month we’d be home: spend a weekend or two at Daniel’s parents’ house in the Berkshires, try to see some smaller movies that never made it to our small town, maybe go to a Kurt Vile show at Bowery Ballroom. Daniel’s parents owned an apartment on Central Park West—and I grew up in a suburb about twenty miles north of the city. We figured we’d see each other a couple of times a week, and would probably spend most weekends together.

By four thirty, the sun was already starting to set. We were somewhere in Rockland County and the sky was huge all around us—bands of purple and pink were setting behind the jagged mountains.

“I think I already miss this,” I said. “Post road-trip blues.”

“I know, baby. You’re nostalgic for everything, all the time.”

“Am I?”

“Always,” Daniel said.

I called my mother, who’d wanted to know if I would be home by dinner.

“I should be back pretty soon,” I told her. “Daniel’s dropping me off within the hour, I think.”

“Okay, sure.”

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“Yup, uh-huh.” I heard some shuffling in the background, but mostly it was the absent quality in my mother’s voice that made me wonder.

“What are you doing?” I asked. “You sound distracted.”

“Sorry, I’m just in the closet going through my clothes. I was planning to go through some old dresses and skirts that I never wear anymore and get a big donation over to the Salvation Army. But there’s something—I don’t know, something strange happening.”

“What do you mean?”

“These dresses aren’t mine,” my mother said.

“Are they mine?” I asked her. “I don’t think I have stuff in your closet but maybe I do?”

“No, no, it’s not like that. I’ll tell you when you get home.”

“Okay, I’ll see you in a few hours. Love you,” I told her.

“Love you too, sweetie. Drive safe.”


WHEN I arrived home, my family and I had something akin to traditional Shabbat dinner. This was something we rarely did; we were culturally Jewish, not at all religious, and that night it looked as though we were a family who savored these customs, lighting a pair of slim ivory candles and blessing the challah. But more likely it was just that there was a special on roasted chicken at the supermarket, and my mother thought it would be a nice thing to do.

She had always been the sort of mother who was extremely attentive, attuned to my moods and needs. When I was a child, I’d come home from school and just by my posture, she could tell if I’d had a bad day, gotten into a fight with one of my friends, or done badly on a math test. She was a micromanager, too—if I was hungry, she would peel and section clementines for me, toast and butter bagels, even when I was well into my teens. But that first night back, something was off; she was inattentive, preoccupied. I wondered if maybe this was just what started to happen when you got older—and in going away to boarding school, wasn’t I expected to tend to myself, as I’d been doing for months already? And that seemed normal; I was seventeen—I didn’t need to be babied. But it also felt abrupt, because during all my other visits home, we had quickly fallen back into old routines; I would sleep late and my mother would come in around noon to wake me, ask me if I wanted breakfast. Did we want to drive to the mall to do some back-to-school shopping?

“Emma,” my father said at dinner, slicing asparagus up into tiny pieces with the side of his fork, “did Mom tell you we’re thinking of redoing the basement?” He was tall and thin and balding, with a thick, graying beard.

“She didn’t.”

“At least part of it. I’ve been toying with the idea of turning the bathroom down there into a darkroom. What do you think?”

“Sounds cool. Are you still teaching photography at school?”

“I’m not right now, but planning to in the spring. I’ll probably teach an elective just for juniors and seniors.” My father had been a history teacher at the same public school in Westchester for almost twenty years; this was also the school that I’d recently transferred out of (and his being there was not totally unrelated to why I’d left). He taught a number of different classes, though what he really loved was the comparative American-studies elective. He was beloved at the school, and yet constantly battling the administration on what he could teach and how. The central problem always came down to this: he never understood how he could possibly teach an apolitical history class. The simple retelling of history was of course a political act! It always troubled him when people didn’t understand (and this was something he had ingrained in me as a young child) how the stories put forth by textbooks year after year were the rich white man’s story, not the stories of the enslaved and underprivileged.

My father, I could tell, was simultaneously envious and proud of the fact that I was at Oak Hill. A private school—and a Quaker one nonetheless—granted a freedom that he was unaccustomed to. It was unabashedly progressive, offered no AP courses so that teachers wouldn’t have to “teach to the test,” was the first boarding school in the country to accept people of color, and had a course catalog as thick as any small liberal arts college. (And ultimately they had offered me the most generous financial aid package, so that was why I had accepted.)

My mother was sitting at the head of the table, her back to the refrigerator, which was crowded with magnets displaying cat jokes and photographs of various children in our extended family. She was picking some dark-meat chicken off a thigh, examining it closely, and then she looked up.

“Oh stop,” she said, her voice was quiet but oddly cheerful. “It’s really not their fault.”

“Huh? Not whose fault?” I asked.


“You just said, ‘It’s not their fault.’”

“Oh nothing, sorry.” She looked down again and scooped up a forkful of rice.

My father brushed her wrist. “You okay, sweetheart?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, sorry. Just a long day, four lessons this morning, back-to-back.”

“Your mom is becoming the talk of the town around here. Some crazy mother from Scarsdale called and asked if she could give a piano lesson to her two-year-old.”

“No way. The kid is actually two?” I said.

“Something like that.”

“Are you gonna do it?” I asked her.

My mother was quiet for a moment, and my father immediately interjected.

“She’ll have to see if the scheduling will work out—the kid has SAT tutoring after day care, so it might not work.”

“Good one, Dad.”

I watched as my father slid some of his chicken onto my mother’s plate, pushed it toward her with his knife. She was the kind of woman who people were always trying to feed. She had a small waist, dainty wrists, slim fingers, and even my seventy-eight-year-old grandmother was always encouraging her to eat more. Before she moved to Florida, my grandmother often came by with potato salads or bagels and lox, brownies wrapped in tinfoil.

“Thanks, honey,” my mother said, “but I’m okay, I promise. I ate a big lunch.” Then she looked at me, asked if we’d hit any traffic on the way back from school.

“Here and there. It wasn’t terrible.”

My father asked if Daniel was a good driver. “I never trust those city kids,” he said.

“He actually is! His dad taught him to drive stick shift upstate when he was fifteen. He’s barely a city kid.”

“Oh right. The second home, of course.”

“Speaking of second homes, I’m gonna go over to Annie’s after dinner.”

“Well, of course,” my father said, “you’ve been home for forty minutes and it’s already time for you to leave.”

“Very funny. Annie was away over Thanksgiving so I haven’t seen her in so long.”

“Emma,” my mother said, and turned to me. “Before you leave, can you just take a look at the closet with me? It won’t take long, I promise.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“I’ll clear the table,” my father said. “You guys can go.”

MY mother and I went into the master bedroom, which suddenly struck me as so old-fashioned and outdated. Something about the way the sun had drained the color from the wallpaper, and the clutter of photographs, the framed artwork from when I was a child. The walk-in closet was narrow but long, with a single lightbulb dangling from the ceiling. There was a shoe rack on the floor that held a dozen pairs of pumps and leather flats, shoes that my mother had bought decades ago and probably hadn’t worn since the eighties.

“Okay, look,” she said. Her small, unadorned hands brushed past various fabrics—cotton skirts, velvet and silk dresses. “Just look.”

“I’m looking. And I don’t get it,” I told her. “All your stuff is here.”

“I know it seems that way, but just look closely.”

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about, Mom. All your stuff is here. This is the same stuff that’s been in your closet since forever. Maybe that’s the problem. You’ve had all of it for so long, you don’t even remember it.”

I realized that I sounded exactly like my mother and I felt a faint prickle at the back of my neck, a warning that, unaccountably, there’d been some strange shift in her thinking. Maybe she’d just had a long day or a bad night’s sleep, but I felt a sliver of panic creeping in.

“No, Emma, just listen to me. I know everything looks the same, but it’s not. Everything’s nearly identical, but that’s the problem. Someone switched it all, as if I wouldn’t notice. Look at this dress.” She lifted up the hem of a floral dress. “These flowers used to be tulips and now they’re lilies.”

Someone switched them? What are you talking about! You’re being crazy.”

Was she drunk? Was this a brain tumor? Or was she just getting older—would this be the place where that irrevocable shift toward dementia would start to occur? But my mother was barely fifty. It seemed absurd, way too early.

I’m crazy? What about the person who broke into the house and stole my clothing and then tried to replace it?”

“Mom, you’re being ridiculous and you’re actually freaking me the fuck out. Please just stop!”

I’d only cursed at my mother one other time that I could remember. I was in the sixth grade and we’d gotten into this huge fight over practicing the violin, which I hated and was terrible at. I could never quite get my fingers coordinated enough, was never able to play without thinking, couldn’t just feel the music and move effortlessly, the way my mother seemed to be able to do with every instrument she played. It had been a stupid idea, taking music lessons from her, but it seemed so logical at the time. And as I fumbled over scales, my fingers tripping over the strings, my mother had said she’d had enough. You’re never going to be good if you fake your way through practicing, Emma. You have to practice.

Jesus, Mom, will you stop being such a bitch? And as soon as I’d said it, I’d felt my face flush, the shame seeping into my cheeks. I’d avoided any eye contact with her, hurried into my bedroom, and slammed the door behind me. I’d sat down on my lavender carpeted floor, pressed my back against the door, and started to cry.

I took my father’s car over to Annie’s that night. It was an old Volvo, with a navy cloth interior, and the smell of coffee was thick in the stale air. The car was cluttered with papers everywhere, a stack of photocopies in a couple of piles on the passenger seat. I turned the CD player on and something folky floated through the speakers. I didn’t know who it was; it sounded a little like the Grateful Dead. When I was a kid, my father would give me a quarter if I could correctly identify the music playing in the car. Once, when I was eleven, he gave me five dollars because I knew it was Fleetwood Mac before Stevie Nicks joined the band.

I’d never felt so accomplished.

On my way over to Annie’s, I felt slightly calmed by the drive—by the smooth, even pavement, the empty roads, the Christmas lights looped around people’s trees. I’d always loved driving through these neighborhoods that time of year, past the colorful lit-up homes, the ones whose roofs were lined with mazes of red and green lights. I got to Annie’s just a few minutes later; her house was at the end of a cul-de-sac, with a wide sloping lawn that was covered with that kind of hardened snow that crackled beneath my feet.

Annie threw her arms around me at the door. She was wearing plaid pajama pants and a Columbia sweatshirt; her hair, long and wavy, was swept up into a bun.

“I’m so happy you’re home!” she said.

“Me too, me too.”

“Henry’s just in my room. Can we go hang out there for a little? Is there anything you wanted to do tonight?”

“No, this is perfect,” I told her. “I’m tired, had a long day, long drive.”

“Oh right, obviously.”

Henry was lying on Annie’s bed with a TV remote in his hand, scrolling through the channels. He had shaggy brown hair and his face was unexpectedly scruffy.

“Hey, Emma. Welcome home.”

“Henry!” I leaned over onto the bed to give him a hug and playfully rubbed his hair, which had grown so long since the last time I’d seen him. Henry and Annie had begun dating right after I’d left for Oak Hill. Annie liked to joke that this was precisely why they’d gotten together, but I knew it wasn’t really true. We had all been friends since middle school and I think he had been vaguely in love with her the entire time. He was quiet and thoughtful, had an understated sort of humor. In the ninth grade yearbook, he was voted “Talks Least, Says Most,” which was precisely the sort of person he was.

In a way, Annie and I had always monopolized each other, fulfilled every role and function in each other’s lives, and so it was only fitting that it would take me leaving to allow room for somebody else. By October of that year, she and Henry had fallen into a sweet and comfortable romance.

“What have you guys been watching?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Annie said. “We’ve just been staring at it and waiting for something good to come on. We were watching Breaking Bad before but it was getting too violent for me.”

“I love that show but sometimes I just can’t stomach it,” I said.

Henry was rolling a joint on top of one of Annie’s old yearbooks. I watched as he ground the weed between his fingernails and delicately arranged it onto the slip of rolling paper. Afterward he twisted it up and sealed the edges with his saliva.

Annie and I had smoked weed together for the first time, in ninth grade. It was the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, and we were hanging out with a boy named Ethan who had a crush on Annie. Some of his friends came over and we all piled into his big walk-in closet, which was immaculate for a fourteen-year-old boy; his jeans and khakis hung neatly over wooden hangers, hooded sweatshirts and colorfully emblazoned basketball jerseys displayed as though in a sporting goods store. Ethan passed me the joint and I held it cautiously between my fingers. I looked at Annie for the okay but she just smiled and shrugged her shoulders in this carefree sort of way that was so unlike either of us. I held the smoke there in my body for as long as I could before coughing, doing my best not to heave dramatically. Afterward, when the boys seemed sufficiently high (laughing so much that they claimed they were about to “piss their pants”), we watched a movie and Annie and I sat on opposite sides of the couch texting one another, trying to figure out if it had worked. Maybe? Kind of? How do I know?

“Do you want some?” Henry asked me now.

“Yes!” I said, emphatically. “I haven’t smoked since before finals. Can we just smoke in here?”

“Let’s go to the basement,” Annie said.

In seventh grade, her parents had renovated the basement, gutting the old wood-paneled walls and ceiling, adding a jukebox (always aglow in pink neon light) and a huge, arcade-style Pac Man game. It was the site of a lot of activity in those middle school years, with a pullout couch and half a dozen air mattresses blown up on the carpeted floor; Annie’s friends and I would stay over whenever we could, savoring our first real taste of privacy, a little space sealing us off from the rest of the world.

We walked past the den, where both of Annie’s parents had fallen asleep, even though it was only ten o’clock. Her father was on his back, on a brown leather couch, and one arm dangled off, grazing the carpeting. Annie’s mother was sitting in an armchair, her feet resting on an ottoman. Her reading glasses had slipped into her lap, the magazine section of the Times beneath them.

“Your mom got a haircut,” I whispered. “She looks so cute.”

Annie and her mother had the same beautiful red hair, thick and glossy. They had always looked so much alike: striking green eyes, pale skin, and a constellation of freckles across their rounded cheeks. Their genetic composition was all exposed, their lineage mapped out for everyone to see.

When we got to the basement, Henry lit the joint, the tip a hot ball of amber. He inhaled a couple of times, and then passed it to me.

“You guys,” I said, “my mom was being so, so weird tonight.”

“Weird how?”

“I don’t know, just crazy.”

“Can you elaborate?” Annie said.

“Something was just off. It was like she was suddenly senile or something. I don’t know how to describe it.”

“What kinds of things was she saying?” Henry asked.

“She was just confused about everything. She was paranoid, saying someone had stolen her clothes even though they were obviously right there. It was insane.” I took another hit of the joint.

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"Axelrod has created a convincing portrait of a teen newly experiencing the step-by-step process of learning how to cope with a family member’s mental illness." —SLJ

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