Monday, October 08, 2007

After the Leaves Fall

Baart, Nicole. 2007. After the Leaves Fall.

Waiting is a complicated longing. I lost my father when I was fifteen, and I've been waiting ever since. He was buried on a rainy day in October, and I remember the sound of the raindrops on the lid of the sleek black casket and how it seemed like music to me. The pastor was doing his best to make sorrowful an occasion that seemed anything but--the leaves on the trees above us were burnt amber, the consoling sky around us was velvety gray, and the rain was singing softly. I didn't feel sad. I felt expectant (1).

Julia Bakker's life is a series of losses, disappointments, and complicated longings. Abandoned by her mother, and raised by her grandmother, she is trying to be anything but the orphan-only-to-be-pitied. Spending most of her time as a loner in high school, she can't help but falling for her best friend, Thomas, though he sees her as nothing but a little sister. Thus opens After the Leaves Fall, while the first three or four chapters cover the "back" story, the heart of this story is about Julia's freshman year in college. Make that her fall semester as a freshman in college. She's away from home. She's independent. She's out to prove to herself and to the world that she has what it takes to make it. But does she? Does she really? School isn't everything she thought it would be. Her roommate isn't the new-best-friend she's always wanted. Her classmates, not her new friends or kindred spirits. And her classes? Overwhelming. The workload, the teacher, the homework, the tests....frustrating, overwhelming, overpowering. She is confused in some ways. She's enjoying some aspects of college life--flirting with her TA, Parker, being one of them. But in other ways she's weary and full of doubts. Doubts about herself, her major, her friendships, her relationships, her place in this world. Though Thomas has been in a long term relationship with someone else for years, Julia can't quite part with the fantasy that one day he'll see her for the first time as a woman, as a soul mate, as the woman of his dreams. It's a season of doubt, longing, and weariness. But it's not without hope. Not without joy. Julia's grandmother is an ever-present. Her constant. Her source of strength and comfort. Can her grandmother introduce her to the Eternal God of Comfort?

I loved this book for many reasons. I love the relationship between granddaughter and grandmother. I love the realistic portrayal of life. Life isn't a thirty minute sitcom. It isn't even a one hour drama. There are no tied-up endings. There are no false resolutions. Life is hard. Life is full of choices. Life is rarely what you expect it to be. You rarely get what what you want. But sometimes you get what you need. There are no easy answers, no easy solutions. Everyone is human. Mistakes happen. Life happens. But beneath it all there is hope. There is beauty. there is a promise of hope.

Here is part of my interview with Nicole Baart. You may read the full interview here.

You have a great first sentence, “Waiting is a complicated longing. I lost my father when I was fifteen, and I’ve been waiting ever since.” Did this come easily or did you struggle with getting it just right?

It just came to me. I’ll often come up with a sentence that speaks powerfully to me, almost like a line of poetry. And then I’ll write a story around that one line. It’s probably nuts to construct an entire novel around one catchy phrase, but I’ve done it a dozen times before and I’m sure I’ll do it again!

Julia, at eighteen and nineteen, is struggling with defining who she wants to be and where she fits into the “bigger picture” of life. Yet she isn’t content to be “undeclared” or “undecided” at this stage in her life. At nineteen did you have struggles and doubts about who you were and what you wanted? Were you going through life “undeclared”? Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known then?

I never really thought about it, but yes, I was quite “undecided” at that age. I started college as a pre-veterinary major and I just hated it. However, I had also grown up loving politics so I easily switched to political science--I thought it would be great to get a government job. That also lost its luster, so I switched to psychology… Then I was undeclared for a while, but I felt so purposeless that I forced myself to pick a major and stick with it. I had always wanted to be a writer, but everyone knew that was a total pipe dream (he-he-he!) so I went with English Literature, Spanish, and English as a Second Language all under the canopy of a bachelor of secondary education degree. Funny how God directed my path exactly where he wanted me to be. If I had it to do all over again, though, I don’t think I’d change a thing except for my attitude. It was great to spend time learning about myself, but I was so controlling at the time and so anxious to know who I was and what I should be doing. I should have just relaxed and enjoyed the journey.

When reading the novel, a phrase kept coming to me “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Does Julia have a theme song by any chance? A motto she lives by?

I don’t know that Julia has a theme song, but there were a number of songs that I listened to over and over again as I wrote the book. One of them was “Wheel” by John Mayer. I love the lyrics near the end where he sings: “If you never stop when you wave goodbye, you just might find, if you give it time, that you wave hello again.” I loved that idea of returning with Julia, of finding yourself back at the beginning and knowing so much more now than you did before.

To learn more about Nicole, visit her official site or blog.


CJ said...

Well, she sounds like a fairly typical college freshman to me. But, I love that quote. How amazing and powerful. Thanks for sharing it.


Anonymous said...

I am so intrigued to read this book now, thanks for sharing. After I finish reading Alex Webster and The Gods I am right on it.