We Are Okay by Nina Lacour
9-12 (The narrator, Marin, is a freshman in college, and the book contains some very mild sexual themes.)
It’s not uncommon for teens to feel betrayed by their parents at some point — when they show up at that party and drag you home, or hide how sick your grandmother really is — but Marin encounters a family betrayal so huge it has the power to uproot everything she knows to be true about her life. The 2018 Printz Award winner, this book follows Marin on her journey through grief — not once, but twice. The book is gorgeously written, alternating between past and present, as Marin both avoids and moves through her sadness.
It was a summer of trying not to think too deeply. A summer of pretending that the end wasn’t coming. A summer when I got lost in time, when I rarely knew what day it was, rarely cared about the hour. A summer so bright and warm it made me believe the heat would linger, that there would always be more days, that blood on handkerchiefs was an exercise in stain removal and not a sign of oblivion.
It was a summer of denial. Of learning what Mabel’s body could do for mine, what mine could do for hers. A summer spent in her white bed, her hair fanned over the pillow. A summer spent on my red rug, sunshine on our faces. A summer when love was everything, and we didn’t talk about college or geography, and we rode buses and hopped in cars and walked city blocks in our sandals. (Page 152-153)
This passage can help writers…
- Write rich summary full of detail
- Use repetition for effect
- Write effective fragments
Together the class might notice…
- The repeating phrase “It was a summer…a summer”
- These two paragraphs are summary, but they read like a scene because of the richness of specific details.
- The polysyndeton (or “repeating ands”, or whatever your students want to call it!) at the end: “…and we rode buses and hopped in cars and walked city blocks in our sandals.”
- The magic three — many of these sentences are comprised of three parts or phrases — Example: 1) A summer when I got lost in time, 2) when I rarely knew what day it was, 3) rarely cared about the hour — that create a rhythm and reflective tone.
- The contrast of vague and specific details: “A summer when I got lost in time” with “blood on handkerchiefs,” for instance.
- The first paragraphs gives an overview of the narrator’s summer, while the second paragraph zooms in on a specific relationship.
Invite students to try it by saying…
In this passage the narrator is reflecting on the summer spent with her girlfriend Mabel. The sentence falls in Chapter Fifteen, subtitled “July and August”. Even though these paragraphs summarize a two-month period in the narrator’s life, it doesn’t feel like summary — the details she includes are so vivid and specific that it feels like she is painting little scenes for us. Summary doesn’t have to be boing. Summary can be as rich and alive as scene.
Today I want you to think about a short time period in your life — maybe last week or month, maybe all of last year, or maybe another fragment of your life that stands out for a specific reason. You might begin by listing out some of the details that made this time period unique. And then can you use Lacour’s paragraph to help you string these details together into a summary that feels present and alive and in focus?
What possibilities do you see here for your students? How could this sentence / passage study connect with the current literature or writing content in your class? How could it help your students? Leave a comment below, or connect with me on Twitter @allisonmarchett.