It’s hard enough to be a teenager, but to be one from a small Maine town who’s the subject of rumors that even her aunt is spreading? That’s really tough. But for this girl, the rumors are easier to stomach than the real secrets she’s keeping.
That’s the premise of “Grit,” a new young adult novel by first-time author Gillian French, a Mainer with a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Maine. French, a former librarian, grew up in Sandy Point and was familiar with blueberry barrens. She was struck with how they were bare for 11 months of the year but then suddenly filled with people for the harvest.
“The ones over in Orland were the ones I was thinking of when I wrote this book,” she said. “My older brother raked one year and I saw how physically intense the job was … [but] you can make a lot of money in one month.”
The raw, suspenseful story follows 17-year-old Darcy Prentiss, a girl plagued with rumors and a bad reputation. But Darcy has real secrets she’s hiding — ones of her own and ones she shares with others. As she navigates August, the month when she, her sister and cousin have jobs raking blueberries, those secrets threaten to not stay hidden. Family dynamics, teenage experiences and small town life are all explored in the 304 page novel recommended for readers age 14 and up.
For French, the publication of this is the culmination of nearly two decades of work and rejections.
“I wrote my first book when I was a freshman in high school and it was really bad,” French said. But she kept writing, writing about a book a year and submitting them to agents and publishers. “I just kept on plugging at it while I was working and started a family … and after a long time it finally did pan out.”
Now 17 years later and a mother of two, French’s writing career has quickly taken off with a book deal with Islandport Press — that book, “The Door to January,” comes out in September — as well as a two-book deal with HarperCollins that includes “Grit,” and “The Summer Boys,” which will be released on May 2018. She’s now in talks with HarperCollins to publish a third book with them, for 2019 publication.
“It was totally surreal after all that time of just scraping. “Three books in one year — it was just mind blowing,” French said.
French will be having a book party at independent bookstore The Briar Patch on Central Street in downtown Bangor on Thursday, June 8 from 6-7 p.m. The party, aimed at teen readers, will include pizza, temporary literary tattoos, door prizes and more.
“I’ll be reading and talking about the book and taking questions,” French said.
She’ll also be returning to Witherle Memorial Library in Castine, where she was the library assistant, on July 31 at 7 p.m. for a book talk.