May 30

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Cover Reveal: A Drop of Hope by Keith Calabrese

My first middle grade novel is about a lot of things. A wishing well. An attic cluttered with mystery. A rare, stolen diamond. Lawn care. The enduring power of friendship. Overcoming our fears, whatever shape they make take.  And junk. Lots of junk.

But at its heart, it’s mostly about hope. Hope means something different to everyone, and it takes on many different forms. It’s what sustains us during tough times and teaches us to reach for our dreams and work to make them come true.

A Drop of Hope takes place in the fictional town of Cliffs Donnelly, which I based to some extent on my own hometown of Springfield, Ohio. Both towns have seen better days, but under the right circumstances, just might see them again.  Three sixth graders find a hidden cave that leads to the bottom of an old wishing well, where they accidentally hear some of the kids in their town make some very personal, very private wishes and, again somewhat accidentally, set about granting them. If the book were a person, Ernest would be the heart, Lizzy would be the brains, and Ryan would be the spine. Ernest is the one who wants to help people, to save the town, but he isn’t sure he’s up to the task. Lizzy is the smartest kid in class, but she remains blind to the simple truths that would help her see herself for who she really is. And finally, while Ryan has the guts to face down the toughest kid in school, he still needs to learn that anger is not the antidote to fear.

Of these three, Ernest is the one most determined to grant the wishes they overhear in the bottom of the well. But his efforts never go according to plan because, well, life never goes according to plan.

And that’s where hope comes in. While nothing goes as expected for Ernest, Ryan, and Lizzy, their actions and efforts still have purpose. Their kindness and good deeds still bear fruit. Because a good deed can take on a life of its own and travel to places no one can predict.

I finished writing A Drop of Hope in 2015.  At the time, I hadn’t considered hope, kindness, and the overall notion that we’re all in this together to be particularly embattled ideas. I kind of thought we’d turned the corner on a lot of this business. I mean, I wasn’t a complete Pollyanna about it, I knew we had a long way to go when it came to bigotry and corporate greed and shady journalism, and this whole income inequality thing sure wasn’t getting any better. Still I felt pretty good about the future, and confident that our national momentum was moving in the direction of optimism and goodness.

Boy did I get that one wrong.

I should confess that I spent the tail end of 2016 in a bit of a self-pitying funk. I had written a book about choosing hope and kindness and inclusion and then half the country goes and chooses fear, anger, and exclusion instead.

Like Ernest, I felt like I had a chance at something special, but I’d blown it.

“I think my book is dead,” I said to my wife one night in late November. We were lying in bed, in the dark. I wasn’t even sure she was still up. Perhaps I was hoping she wasn’t.

She encouraged me otherwise, because that’s what people who love you do. She chided me that giving up hope would be wildly hypocritical. She said people would want this story.

Of course since that night, the xenophobia, the dishonest news, and economic desperation have all gotten so much worse, and so much more toxic.

My son is part of a magnet program in a Los Angeles public high school. He has friends who are constantly afraid that their backgrounds, their legal status, the way they identify, their mere attendance at a school, makes them targets. They’re not wrong.  And even though our son knows we stand together on all of this, sometimes I still catch him a looking at me as if to say, “How can you keep letting this nonsense happen?”

He’s not wrong.

There’s one scene in the book that’s been on my mind lately. It’s not a big moment, in fact it’s very quick, virtually silent, and not really crucial to the plot. It’s a scene where Ryan has some kids over at his house, among them an Indian-American boy named Winston. On this day, Ryan’s dad happens to come home early from work. This worries Ryan greatly because for the last several months his dad has been watching a lot of political news, full of anger and shouting and xenophobic finger pointing, and Ryan isn’t sure how his dad will react when Winston introduces himself and extends his hand.

Ryan can’t do anything but watch, and know that whatever happens next will always be how he remembers his dad.

Ryan’s dad takes Winston’s hand. He welcomes the boy into his home.

He remembers who he really is.

Our kids get it. And they’re done watching. The first half of 2018 has demonstrated as much quite effectively. They’re speaking up about all sorts of things. Like Ernest, Ryan, and Lizzy, they’re fighting to change things. And they’re going to remember what we do. What we say. Where we stand.

Like Winston, these kids are holding out their hands to us, hoping…

That we remember who we really are.

 

Keith Calabrese is an author and screenwriter who holds a degree in creative writing from Northwestern University. A former script reader, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife, kids, and a dog who thinks he’s a mountain goat.