Book Spotlight: Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me
by Gae Polisner
Release Date: April 4, 2020

About Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me
Fifteen-year-old JL Markham’s life used to be filled with carnival nights and hot summer days spent giggling with her forever best friend Aubrey about their families and boys. Together, they were unstoppable. But they aren’t the friends they once were.

With JL’s father gone on long term business, and her mother struggling with her mental illness, JL takes solace in the tropical butterflies she raises, and in her new, older boyfriend, Max Gordon. Max may be rough on the outside, but he has the soul of a poet (something Aubrey will never understand). Only, Max is about to graduate, and he's going to hit the road—with or without JL.

JL can't bear being left behind again. But what if devoting herself to Max not only means betraying her parents, but permanently losing the love of her best friend? What becomes of loyalty, when no one is loyal to you?

Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a story about the fragility of female friendship, of falling in love and wondering if you are ready for more, and of the glimmers of hope we find by taking stock in ourselves.


"Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is an absolutely real, raw and emotional read, 
and it's a book that touched my heart with every page."
—Katie McGarry, critically acclaimed author of Only a Breath Apart


Add Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me on Goodreads.

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"Gae Polisner has done it again. I absolutely loved this beautiful, heart-wrenching story
about friendship, family, and first love, and what happens when they all fall apart.
Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a truly special book."
—Lauren Spieller, author of Your Destination Is on the Left


An Excerpt from Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me
LATE JUNE
BEFORE EIGHTH GRADE

The day is hot. We’re running through the sprinkler in my backyard, dodging in and out of the cold spray that fans over us, shrieking as droplets rain down onto our sun-warmed, tanned skin.

You push me closer as the arc of water returns, and I fall onto the grass, wet, laughing, taking you down with me. The sod under us is new and soft, and the freshly cut blades stick to our limbs, our faces.

We are giddy with summer, with each other. We are still on the cusp of everything.

Afterwards, you turn off the hose, and we lie on faded chaise lounges we drag to the middle of my yard, our chests heaving with rapid, satisfied breaths in our barely-filled- out bikini tops.

You reach out and take my hand and an indescribable sort of electricity shoots through me, real and palpable, as if I could reach out the fingers of my other hand and touch it, some white-hot charge that holds us together.

We are friends—best friends—but more than that. We are entirely, platonically, in love.

“See that cloud, JL?” You let go and point off beyond the top of the tallest sycamore branches. “It looks like a giant mushroom, doesn’t it?” My eyes follow your finger, my hand cold from the loss. “Do you see it there?”

I bust out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” you ask, your voice defensive.

I lean all the way over, tilt your face a bit with my hand to change the angle. “It looks a lot like something else, Aubs. Look again.”

You sit up and squint to see clearer. After a second, you say, “Oh my god, it’s a giant penis cloud, isn’t it?” and we both fall apart laughing.

When our stomachs hurt so bad we have to fight from laughing more, you lie back down and ask softly, “Have you ever seen one for real, JL?”

“A penis? No.” I think for a minute. “I mean, pictures, yes, but not in real life, in person. Why? You?”

You nod and look at me, eyes big, mouth covered by your own hand like you’ve revealed some dangerous secret, making me sit up and demand, “Okay, spill! Whose?” You shake your head hard, your eyes round over your still- cupped fingers. I run off a few names, guessing.

“David Brundage?”

“Scott Silvestri?”

“Matthew Flynn?”

You uncover your mouth. “God, no! I hear it’s giant, though. Like a grown man’s . . .”

“Well, tell, then.”

“No one from school,” you say, covering your mouth again and adding through half-open fingers, “closer to home, JL. Come on.”

“Ew, Ethan’s?” I squeal too loudly, and you nod, and we both shriek and shudder in exaggerated, disgusted delight. “Oh my god!” I say. “Why?”

“By accident, obviously. I wasn’t trying! I walked in on him in the bathroom. He forgot to lock the door, and—”
“Ew! So gross! Don’t tell me!” I cry, but I have a thou- sand questions. Ones I will never dare ask.

“Right? Totally. That thing is, like, burned into my brain!” We shudder one more time for good measure.

After, we’re quiet for a while, and the clouds shift and the mushroom one feathers out and disappears.

I take your hand this time, feeling the electric bond return as I swing our clasped fingers together in the space between our chairs.

“I love you,” I say.

“Me too,” you respond too quickly. I roll my head to the side and smile, and you add, “Your boobs are getting bigger than mine. No fair.”

“They are?” I glance down my chest toward my two pathetic, barely-there mounds beneath the bikini fabric.

You nod. “Yes. And you’re so pretty—too pretty—you’re really perfect, you know? I’ve never had a friend as perfect as you.”

It should be a compliment but, instead, the electricity fizzles as if short-circuited, and my chest fills with an inexplicable sense of dread. Your admiration feels somehow fragile and conditional, and impossible to live up to.

“No I’m not, don’t be stupid,” I say, irritated. I want to untangle my fingers, get up, and sprint across the lawn, but you squeeze harder to hold on.

“Yes you are. Admit it.”

“Aubs—”

“Well, I think you are. I wish I were more like you. Pretty and free, and not afraid of anything, like your mother.”

It feels worse when you add this, because you don’t know me if you think I’m like her. I’m nothing like her, off-kilter and unfettered, nor half as beautiful. I’m plain, but I’m solid. And, yet, it isn’t about me, suddenly. It’s what you have decided. You have judged me as one thing, and at some point, I will disappoint you by proving you wrong.

“I am not,” I say again, to right things.

“Are too,” you insist, making my face redden in protest. But you don’t notice. You don’t see. And even if you turned and looked at me, you couldn’t tell the flush of anger in my cheeks from too much sun. “I just wish I could be more like you. Geesh, that’s all.”

“You do?”

You nod, and squeeze my fingers even harder, and we both close our eyes. I leave them there in yours even though a few are starting to go numb.

“So much,” you say. “Really?”

“Yes. Really.”

So, maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe you’re not judging me at all.

I squeeze back, letting go of my unease, wanting to hold on to whatever spell has you enamored with me, instead.

Or maybe I’m weak and don’t have the heart to call out the lie, and tell you how afraid of everything I really am.


About Gae Polisner
Gae Polisner is the award-winning author of In Sight of Stars, The Memory of Things, The Summer of Letting Go, The Pull of Gravity, and Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me. She lives on Long Island with her husband, two sons, and a suspiciously-fictional looking dog. 

When Gae isn't writing, you can find her in a pool or the open waters off Long Island. She's still hoping that one day her wetsuit will turn her into a superhero.

Connect with Gae


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