Fiction Andi Teran Ana of California: A Novel

ISBN 13 : 9780143126492

Ana of California: A Novel

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9780143126492: Ana of California: A Novel
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

CHAPTER ONE

She was out of beginnings, this she knew.

Ana ran her hands through her knotted hair, wondering when she’d last washed it. She’d been up for more than twenty-four hours, and there was still ketchup on her shirt.

“This is the fifth home you’ve been expelled from in the last ten years.”

“To be fair, it was only four. I was at the Mitchell house twice.”

“Well, this time it’s . . . a situation.”

Ana stared at the wall behind the desk. She’d seen the corkboard many times before and had studied the photographs of Mrs. Saucedo’s children over the years. She’d watched them grow older, lose teeth, win ribbons, and pose for class photos. There was always a birthday card or thank-you note pushpinned to the board. Today it was a small California license plate bearing the word MOM.

“I know it’s been hard, but we need to find a solution,” Mrs. Saucedo said, adjusting her glasses. “I’d like us to work together on this.”

Ana let her eyes roam around the room. The walls were still a pale industrial green, and there was a fake tree in the corner, the same one with the rubber branches that would never grow. She remembered the first time she saw the tree and how it had been strung with lights and ornaments. There were reindeer, paper stars, and angels made of tin. One branch was weighed down by a heavy gourd, the middle hollowed out to hold figurines of a man and a woman staring down at a baby, a glittered star hanging above them. She remembered how she wanted to climb inside the gourd and live there forever.

Feliz Navidad,” Ana said, still staring at the tree. “Those were the first words you said to me.”

Mrs. Saucedo looked down at her desk. Everything was in its place save for Ana’s file, which was thick and open to a photo of a little girl in a pink puffy coat.

“I remember,” she said.

“It was cold, not like today.”

“Yes, it was.”

“It was the first time I ever wished for snow—not that it would ever happen.”

Ana shifted in the chair. The armrests were worn and rough under her fingertips.

“Would you like to talk about what happened that night?” Mrs. Saucedo asked, knowing Ana never did.

This time, though, Ana did want to talk about it. She remembered everything, every detail. Back then, it was referred to as “an accident,” and also, “the incident,” but Ana chose to name it as you would a melodramatic poem or story—“With Sorrow and Black Doves.” She was the only one who had seen what had happened the night she was brought in to child services, and every time she entered Mrs. Saucedo’s small office, the memories of The Night That Started It All returned harsh and fast. She’d managed to shut them away year after year, but there, in that windowless room, the images flickered in the periphery.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Mrs. Saucedo said, keeping her voice soft and slow, trying to catch Ana’s eyes, which remained fixed on the tree.

If there was anyone she could talk to it was Mrs. Lupe Saucedo, the nice lady behind the desk who genuinely cared about her well-being—even after all these years. Though she hadn’t felt it physically since they’d met almost a decade ago, Mrs. Saucedo’s warmth remained. She remembered how the woman’s arms had embraced her that day and how the scent of roses and clean cotton still tickled her nose. Mrs. Saucedo had whispered to her back then too.

“‘Ya me canso de llorar y no amanece.’”

“You’re not crying and you do have hope.” Mrs. Saucedo sighed. “Please, this isn’t a telenovela. Like I’ve told you many times before, the drama does you no favors.”

“It’s a line from a song, not a comment on my psychological state.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear you still speaking Spanish. I think your grandma would be proud.”

Almost as a reflex, Ana’s hands squeezed the armrests of the chair. She kept her eyes focused anywhere but on Mrs. Saucedo’s face and concentrated instead on her own breathing. She wanted to speak but feared giving in to her tears, so she dipped her chin to her chest.

What she wanted to tell Mrs. Saucedo was that the line had been from her grandma’s—her abuela’s—favorite song, and that she had memorized every word. She wanted to explain that if there had been music playing on the day of the incident, it would have been this very song. She imagined the voice of a banshee swooping in to replace the screaming, how a trumpet might have substituted for blasts, and how she wished the plucking of an acoustic guitar had kept her company in the aftermath of silence, a melancholy soundtrack for the newly alone.

“I don’t speak it as much as I should,” Ana said, instead tucking her hands between her knees, which wouldn’t stop bouncing.

“You understand I have nowhere left to send you, yes? We talked about three strikes less than a year ago, and since then you’ve gone from the group home to another failed foster situation. This is it—no more homes, no more chances,” Mrs. Saucedo said. “It might help to talk about what happened that night, talk about your abuela, and talk about what we can do to get you to where she’d want you to be.”

“If it’s all right with you, I’d rather talk about what’s been going on the past few months.”

Mrs. Saucedo had heard complaints about foster parents before. She anticipated an elaborate explanation, knowing Ana’s flair for the dramatic. In her younger years, Ana’s stories were wildly embellished but had since boiled down to silent defiance after being removed from her third foster home.

“I spoke with Ms. Fenton.”

“I’m desperate to hear what she had to say.”

“I think you know exactly what she said.”

“If you had any idea how we’ve been treated all summer . . .”

“Ana . . .”

“—And how the rules were completely . . .”

“It’s not your place to step in.”

“But it wasn’t right, and someone needed to do something because no one ever does.”

“I understand the conditions were not the best,” Mrs. Saucedo said, trying not to raise her voice. “And for that I apologize. But Ms. Fenton is a longtime foster mother, and despite the strict household, it is not your job to tell her how to discipline the other children.”

“So, I’m just supposed to sit there and let two little kids go without any food for the second day in a row? I’m supposed to kick back while the so-called mother of the house eats the freezer and shelves clean just to prove a stupid point? It’s Ludicrous, capital L.”

“I don’t understand.”

“She doesn’t give any of us lunch or dinner—like zero food—anytime she feels we’re doing something wrong, which is pretty much all the time. She got angry that I gave an ice cream sandwich to the kids to share, and I get that it was the last one in the freezer and everything, but it was all we had. And she took it out on them. It’s not the first time it’s happened, either.”

“Ms. Fenton relayed to me that you were combative and inappropriate, and while I disagree wholeheartedly with her methods, I do not condone your response to them.”

“Believe me, I can skip a ton of meals, but the kids? She takes their toys away and never lets them play, as if their lives weren’t completely messed up already, as if we weren’t starving enough. So, yeah, something needed to be done. Sorry but not sorry.”

“I was unaware this was going on,” Mrs. Saucedo said, taking a breath. “I understand your point, but staging a death scene isn’t funny and you know it.”

Mrs. Saucedo thought she detected a smile. Ana sometimes smiled when she was uncomfortable, rarely when she was proud or defiant. It was a habit that often led to miscommunication.

“That’s not what we were doing,” Ana said, sitting up and looking at Mrs. Saucedo for the first time. “Like I said, there was nothing in the cupboards and only ketchup in the fridge, so I told the kids to imagine they were eating hamburgers. I squirted ketchup in their mouths, and we pretended we were so full we couldn’t get up from the floor. It was just a stupid game . . . something I made up to take their minds off things.”

Mrs. Saucedo had a hard time believing that had been the extent of it.

“Haven’t you been going to the recreation center for lunch?” she asked, remembering Ana and her foster siblings were part of the Summer Food Program. “Hasn’t Ms. Fenton been making sure that you go?”

“She didn’t let us out of the house a few times this week because she was angry that I stayed late at the library. Sometimes when she gets angry, she punishes all of us and says we’re ‘putting her in a mood.’ It’s a mood I like to call completely insane.”

Mrs. Saucedo kept her eyes on Ana.

“I’m not making this up.”

“I never said you were.”

“Really, Mrs. S., she’s the most deplorable woman. I don’t mean to call you out or criticize the way things are done around here or anything, but the way you guys pick foster parents sucks. I know it was stupid to leave, and I know I’ve done it a few times before, but after she refused to feed us again, after so many days with no lunch, and after we were forced to sit on the couch while she inhaled a bag of Cheetos without offering us any and then told everyone it was all my fault—you have to understand why I had to get out of there. But I wasn’t making a run for it, I swear. I was going to get something for everyone to eat.”

Ana chewed her bottom lip and kept her hands folded in her lap. She looked down at her ripped jeans, focusing on the misshapen hearts and stars drawn all over her exposed kneecaps, the remnants of an afternoon spent playing “art school” with her foster brother and sister, the two she knew she’d probably never see again.

“Not to elaborate, but she made us do all the housework too. Honestly, I don’t mind, but if there was toothpaste on the mirror, or if I didn’t iron all the wrinkles out of her shirts, she would take it out on all of us. I tried to be nice, to do extra work. I tried to ignore the way her disgusting boyfriend used to stare at my T-shirt as if invited by a logo emblazoned across my chest, and I tried to do everything you’ve always told me to do.”

“You don’t have to say anything else,” Mrs. Saucedo said.

“But I shouldn’t have left like that . . . I get it.”

“No, you shouldn’t have. Nor should you have called Ms. Fenton what you called her, regardless of how she treated you.”

Ana had heard the sound of the screen door slam behind her as she ran out of the house. Her throat was raw and the imprint of small hands still warmed her palms. She remembered running through the gravel in the front yard and all the way down the block, ignoring the heat of the sidewalk seeping into her sneakers. She couldn’t remember how far she’d gone or why she’d neglected to say good-bye, knowing, even then, that she wouldn’t be allowed to return. She had promised she’d never leave her foster siblings there—that she’d never leave them period—but she’d broken that promise again, in the same way it had always been broken to her.

“You’re almost sixteen,” Mrs. Saucedo said. “You are old enough and smart enough to know how and when to rise above a situation. I know you were looking after the others, but the person you need to look after most is yourself.”

Mrs. Saucedo studied Ana’s face, which was tense; her eyes focused on clasped hands, one thumb picking at the other. She’d seen this look before.

“What’s the matter?”

“I know you don’t want me to get into it, but I should probably tell you that she brought up my mother.”

“What did she say?”

“That I’m going to end up just like her.”

Mrs. Saucedo took a breath. “Is that all she said?”

“No.”

“I want you to tell me exactly what she said.”

It wasn’t the first time Ana’s file had been used against her, if the file even allowed her to be assigned to a foster home in the first place. No one wanted to deal with a child who had been marked as difficult or traumatized.

“She said I’m going to end up in jail, where I quote unquote ‘belong,’ if a bullet doesn’t find me first. It’s not like I haven’t heard it before.”

“You know that’s not true.”

“Isn’t it?” Ana said, hands gripping a bouncing knee.

“Your parents knew what they were involved in, and the rest . . . None of it was your fault,” Mrs. Saucedo said, removing her glasses and placing them on top of Ana’s file. “We’ve talked about how to deal with difficulty, how to temper your emotions, but we’ve never talked about why they flare up every time you settle in to a new place. We’re either going to talk about it now and figure out the next steps or I’m going to have to make a decision without your input.”

“Just put me in another foster home. I can start over again.”

“That’s not an option.”

“What if I lived with you? I can do all the housework. You can put me in the garage or something, and I’ll babysit your kids until school starts—really, I can help out. I’ll be quiet, and you won’t even see me.”

Mrs. Saucedo closed her eyes for a moment. She thought back to her training and reflected on her decades of experience. She reminded herself not to show any anger or sign of frustration, so she inhaled deeply, and even though it was discouraged, she thought about her own children.

“You won’t even know I’m there. I’m good at washing dishes and fixing things. And I don’t need to eat much. I can go days without food, done it many times before. And I know a million bedtime stories that my abuela told me, ones I’m sure your kids haven’t heard before. It’ll just be until I’m sixteen—not like forever or anything.”

Mrs. Saucedo moved closer to Ana, who turned her body toward the door.

“I’m not crying,” Ana said. “My eye itches. And I’m just sick of this.”

“I know.

“Honestly, I didn’t mean to freak out and run. I’m trying to do the right thing.”

“I know you are, but that’s not the problem.”

“Please don’t send me back to the group home.”

Ana wiped her face. She told herself that if her eyes met Mrs. Saucedo’s again, she might drown.

“I’ll do anything,” Ana said. “Just please don’t send me back there.”

She felt her voice slip and knew she’d never be able to catch it. Every breath seemed heavier and harder to swallow. She’d been to a group home before Ms. Fenton’s; in fact, it was the last time she’d sat in Mrs. Saucedo’s office arguing against another situation that had remained woefully unchecked. Ana could barely remember the faces of those who had surrounded her back then, though she could recite every word they said. Her memory flashed to the bathroom, the group of girls standing behind her as she tried not to make eye contact in the mirror. They were older and greater in number, swift and quiet in their attack. She was shoved from behind first and punched once or twice—she couldn’t remember—before her head hit the floor. There were multiple feet near her face, that she remembered, and she’d kept her eyes focused on the chipped tile where there was a clump of her own hair.

“Take a breath,” Mrs...

Revue de presse :

“Andi Teran’s first novel is vivid and fully realized, an entire universe expertly condensed into the pages you hold in your hands. Ana herself is a complicated delight, and by the end of the book I wanted to scoop her up into my arms.” — New York Times bestselling author Emma Straub

“What is so memorable about this novel is the reminder that happiness is a choice, a courageous and daring opportunity to express love for the things we value. At the outset we learn that Ana Cortez is an orphan, but as we live with her during one particular summer on Garber Farm we witness the creation of family before our eyes, and admire the passion, humility and valor of one of the most tender-hearted characters in literature today—a jewel of a book.” – Mario Alberto Zambrano, author of Loteria

Anne of Green Gables fans will rejoice; newcomers will find a satisfying tale; and Ana’s high jinx will leave both types of readers smiling and asking for more.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Fans of Montgomery’s series will appreciate nods to blackberry bushes, Ana’s uncontrollable mouth, and the farm setting, but not recognizing these references will not hinder other readers enjoyment.” – Publisher’s Weekly

“Debut fiction author Teran’s contemporary reimagining of Anne of Green Gables brilliantly captures the essence of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic story of a girl who will win your heart with her well-meaning imperfections. Highly recommended.” – Library Journal

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