Saturday, June 2, 2012

"Hand Me Down"

Melanie Thorne earned her MA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis, where she was awarded the Alva Englund Fellowship and the Maurice Prize in fiction. She was a resident at the Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat in 2011, and her work has appeared in various journals, including The Greenbelt Review and Global City Review.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Hand Me Down, her first novel, and reported the following:
I lucked out and found that page 69 is one of my favorite scenes in the book and is very much representative of a few major themes in Hand Me Down, particularly the strength of the bond between the narrator, Liz, and her little sister, Jaime. At the top of page 69 they are alone in the truck their drunken father has just driven off the road.
Her blond hair covered her face and she didn’t move. I couldn’t tell if she was breathing...On the floor at Jaime’s side, I swept her hair off her chilly forehead, pressed two fingers to her damp neck, and found a pulse.
Liz has spent her whole life doing her best to protect her little sister: from their father’s drunk driving and angry fists, from their sex-offender step-father’s inappropriate gestures and lingering touches. In this scene, Jaime is unconscious, and Liz is terrified. Throughout the book, especially once the sisters are separated, Liz is fearful for her sister’s safety. This scene is a prime example of why.
“Jaime, wake up.” I yanked on her eyelashes and she didn’t flinch. “Okay, drama queen,” I said, and shook her shoulders. “Enough already.” Her head flopped to the side on a neck made of taffy. The pulse at my temples increased to a vibration, a buzzing warning in my brain building like a swarm of bees...I cradled her head and lifted her upper body into my lap...smoothed her clammy skin with my hand and wrapped my arms around her torso. “Hey, little sister,” I said. “I’m here.” I rocked us gently back and forth like I did at night when Jaime’s nightmares scared her into consciousness, like I’d done when Mom’s and Dad’s screams burrowed through the walls.
Liz loves Jaime so much, more than anything else in the world, and in this moment, she thinks Jaime might be gone. At this point in the story, Liz and Jaime’s mother has just started dating the creepy guy she will later marry and choose over her daughters, but right now, Liz is only starting to realize how alone she and Jaime really are. Liz vows to be tougher if Jaime makes it through this night.
I kissed her limp hand. “This isn’t funny, Jaime,” I said. I poked each of her fingertips with my nails. “Open your eyes.” It looked like she was sleeping, but she was so pale. Tears streamed down my face and for the first time in years, I didn’t know what to do.
This scene also shows Liz helpless, a state she tries hard to avoid. She blames herself—as so many kids do—and if Jaime doesn’t wake up, it’ll be her punishment for not being vigilant enough. She will later have to learn to find a balance between safety and sacrifice, figure out how to accept that it’s not her fault, but for now, all she can see is that her sister is hurt and there is nothing she can do.

Page 69 ends with: “Jaime,” I said softly. “Where’d you go?”
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Thorne's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue