Genre: MG Contemporary
Word Count: 44,000 words
STILLVILLE is the story of 12-year-old Nathan Stone, a budding naturalist and the sole Jewish boy in a small Iowa town where change has always been slow and unwelcome. Until it comes fast and furious. Nathan first loses his best friend to the closing of the town’s main employer, a meat-packing plant. Stillville’s economic fortunes appear revived when Hasidic Jews arrive to reopen the plant as a producer of kosher meats. But it proves an imperfect blessing.
Before long Stillville and Nathan not only have to adjust to the Hasids and their strange, often antagonistic ways, but an army of Spanish-speaking immigrant workers. A crime wave, the town’s first, adds to the tension. As relations between the newcomers and the natives strain, Nathan and his family find themselves in an uncomfortable middle.
In the wake of these changes, Nathan is drawn into alliances and friendships he would have never anticipated, including a special one with one of the newcomers, a Hasidic boy named Lev. Both of their lives are permanently marked by their evolving friendship.
STILLVILLE is a 44,000-word multi-layered middle-grade contemporary which addresses important issues of religion, self-identity and science. It will entice young readers by taking them inside a religious sect, presenting a scientific challenge along with a crime mystery, while drawing them into the deepening and complex relationships among the main characters. Think of a middle grade THE CHOSEN with baseball replaced by biology.
I am a widely published magazine journalist and essayist, with bylines in numerous national publications including the major in-flights (American, United, Continental), Fast Company, Moment, Salon.com, themillions.com and The Atlantic Monthly. I’ve been a finalist for Best American Essays. My debut young adult novel, IN REAL LIFE, the story of a computer gaming prodigy, is scheduled for publication from Tuttle Publishing in the fall of 2014. This book was repped by Kate Epstein, who no longer handles fiction.
The first, glorious day of summer vacation and something felt wrong. I stood in the middle of the meadow by our house and took in a deep breath through my nose, hoping to smell the purple blooms of the early clover under my feet, the weeds and natives shooting up out of the damp, rich Iowa soil. All I could smell was the new meat packing plant. A harsh, disgusting cross between burnt and rotten. Maybe the wind would change. I could always hope.
I slowly scanned the entire field, all the way to the tree line, attuned to the slightest movement of butterflies of interest. Nothing. It was if as if they’d all left Stillville, like so many of my classmates. No swooping swallowtails, no dancing fritillaries, not even a gliding monarch.
I should have been feeling great, even with the stink, even without the butterflies. The sun was shining. I had all day to traipse through the fields and woods. The normal ingredients for a perfectly happy summer day. So what was my problem?
For one thing Clay, my best buddy, was gone. He and I had been kicking around these fields since kindergarten. Until his Dad gave up on finding another job as good as the one he’d had at the old packing plant. They’d left town halfway through sixth grade.
That left Henry, the third of what our fifth grade teacher called “the three musketeers” – Clay, Henry and me, Nathan. Clay had moved. Now Henry had changed. When I reminded him about the cool outdoor things the three of us had done pervious summers he called it kids stuff. He just wanted to play his Xbox and talk about girls. Not that there was anything wrong with Xbox and girls. But who wants to stay inside all summer?