|Love Letters of Abelard and Lily
Landing in detention after secretly stopping her ADHD medication, Lily bonds with Abelard, an engaging boy with his own developmental challenges, over a mutual affinity for classic love letters and wonders if their growing attraction will be strong enough to bridge their differences. 25,000 first printing. Simultaneous eBook.
Laura Creedle lives in Austin, Texas, and writes about her experiences as an ADHD writer at www.lauracreedle.com. The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily is her debut novel.
Lily, 16, struggles with ADHD. She hates her medication, but without it, she loses focus and has difficulty controlling her impulses. One of these impulses leads her to Abelard, a classmate with Asperger's syndrome. They're probably the only teens at their school who have read The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise, and they begin a text correspondence in which they quote the book heavily. In fact, the text sessions seem better than some of their real-life encounters. As their relationship flourishes, Lily feels bound for eventual disaster. Abelard recognizes her best qualities, but his own issues create tension. When Lily thinks she is going to lose Abelard, she goes into full destructive mode, which, ironically, gets her headed in the right direction. Creedle's debut novel is rich and thoughtful, and Lily, the first-person narrator, is feisty, funny, and introspective. Abelard's portrayal dispels the erroneous notion that people with autism lack emotion. Lily's best friend Rosalind, her overachieving younger sister Iris, and her mother are particularly realistic and effective foils to Lily's turmoil. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.
When two white Texas teens—Lily with ADHD, Abelard with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder—fall in love, their romance loosely tracks that of their medieval predecessors. If she raises her grades and stops skipping school, Lily might be allowed to visit Dad—medieval-history scholar-turned-Oregon goat farmer—this summer. Failure seems likely; Lily's hidden her emotionally deadening meds in the bedroom she shares with her little sister, who attends a school for gifted kids. When Lily lands in detention with handsome, smart, socially isolated Abelard, he covers for her, earning her appreciative kiss. Having inadvertently exposed Abelard to online ridicule, Lily borrows from the letters of Abelard and Heloise and apologizes. A strong text-based and shaky in-person romance ensues. Abelard's journey from social isolation to engagement is slow (hovering parents don't help). While Lily's dream of Oregon collapses with her grades, Abelard awaits admissi on to a prestigious college-prep program in New Mexico. At her mother's urging, Lily consents to experimental brain surgery. Banishing or alleviating her symptoms could make college (previously ruled out) possible for her, too. As revealed in her trenchant narration, Lily's smart, funny, impulsive, easily distracted—ADHD is part of her. How will excising it affect her? Her romance with Abelard? Everyone around her has an opinion, and so will readers. Because many teens with ADHD manage college without medication (the surgery option is fiction), the scenario's either/or premise also merits examination. Entertaining, thought-provoking, and unsettling—in a good way. (Fiction. 12-16) Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
The day Abelard and I broke the wall, we had a four-hour English test. Seriously. Every tenth grade student in the State of Texas had to take a four-hour English test, which is too long to sit still even if you are a normal person. And I’m not a normal person.
After the test, I told my feet to take me to geography. If I didn’t tell myself where to go, if I let my mind drift, I’d find myself in the quiet calm of the art wing, where the fluorescent lights flickered an appealingly low cycle of semipermanent gloom. Or I’d stand in the empty girls’ room just to be alone. Sometimes I think I’m not attention deficient but attention abundant. Too much everything.
When I got to geography, Coach Neuwirth handed out a boring article about the importance of corn as a primary crop in the early Americas. Then he left the room. He did this a lot. Ever since basketball season had ended, Coach Neuwirth seemed like someone who was counting the minutes until the school year was over. To be fair, he wasn’t the only one running out the clock.
Thirty seconds after Coach Neuwirth left, the low murmur of voices turned into a conversational deluge. I sat in the back of the room because that’s where the two left-handed desks were—in the row reserved for stoner boys who do not like to make eye contact with teachers. Two seats in front sat Rogelio, turned sideways in his chair, talking fast and casting glances in my direction.
“Cosababa, pelicular camisa,” Rogelio said, and the boys around him all laughed.
Okay, this is probably not what Rogelio said. I’m not a great listener. Also, my Spanish is terrible.
“Camisa,” he repeated.
At the word camisa, Emma K. turned to look at me, and whispered something to the blond girl next to her. I instantly wondered if I’d been talking to myself, which is a thing I do. It attracts attention.
Then it sank in. Camisa. Spanish for “shirt.”
Maybe there was something wrong with my shirt. Maybe the snap-button cowboy shirt I got at a thrift store was not charming and ironic as I’d imagined, but seriously ugly. Emma K. had whispered about my shirt. Even Rogelio and his friends, who often wore snap-button cowboy shirts, had laughed at my shirt. Or maybe not, because my Spanish isn’t good, and anyway, Rogelio could have been talking about someone else. Not Emma K., though. She looked straight at me.
What if I’d popped open a button at bra level and I’d been walking around all day with my bra exposed, and was I even wearing a nice bra, a sexy black bra? Or was it just one of those tragic old bras with a ribbon or a rose that might have been cute once but, over repeated washings, had turned slightly gray and balled up like a dirty piece of dryer lint stuck to the center of my chest?
I clutched the front of my shirt, and Emma K. and the blond girl giggled. My shirt was properly buttoned, but I couldn’t sit in my chair for another minute. School was a molasses eternity, a nightmare ravel of bubble sheets and unkind whispers unfurled in slow motion. I had to leave, even though I’d promised my mother that I would under no circumstances skip school again.
I stood. My feet made a decision in favor of the door, but a squeaking metallic noise stopped me.
Directly behind me was an accordion-folded, putty-colored vinyl wall, along with a gunmetal gray box with a handle sticking out of one end. The squeaking noise came from the metal box. The handle moved.
When our school was built in the sixties, someone decided that walls impede the free flow of educational ideas, because some of the third-floor rooms are all double-long, cut in half by retractable vinyl walls. Apparently, the architect of this plan had never been to a high school cafeteria to experience the noise associated with the unimpeded flow of ideas. The wall doesn’t get opened much.
Last time anyone opened the wall was during Geography Fair. One of the custodians came with a strange circular key he inserted into a lock on the side of the box. He’d pushed the handle down and the wall had wheezed open, stuttering and complaining.
Now the handle jiggled up and down as if a bored ghost was trying to menace our class, but no one else was paying attention. I wondered if the custodian was trying to open the wall from the other side. It didn’t make sense.
I left my desk and walked to the box. I leaned over and grabbed it, surprised by the cool feel of solid metal. And suddenly, I felt much better. The world of noise and chaos faded away from me. The touch of real things can do this.
The movement stopped. I shook the bar up and down. It didn’t range very far before hitting the edge of what felt like teeth in a gear.
I pushed down hard on the handle. After a momentary lull, it sprang up in my hands, knocking with surprising force against my palms. I put both hands on the bar, planted the soles of my Converse sneakers, and pulled against it with all my might.
There was a loud pop, followed by the whipping sound of a wire cable unraveling. The bar went slack in my hands. The opposite end of the vinyl wall slid back three feet.
Everyone stopped talking. Students near the door craned their heads to see into the other classroom. Dakota Marquardt (male) said, “Shiiit!” and half the class giggled.
A rush of talking ensued, some of it in English, some in Spanish.
I dropped the handle and slid back into my chair, too late. Everyone had seen me.
Coach Neuwirth ran back into the room and tried to pull the accordion curtain closed. When he let go of the edge, it slid away, leaving a two-foot gap.
He turned and faced the room. “What the hell happened here?”
It’s never good when a teacher like Coach Neuwirth swears.
I waited for someone to tell on me. Pretty much inevitable.
Dakota Smith (female) stood and straightened her skirt. She pulled her long brown hair over her shoulder and leaned forward as though reaching across a podium for an invisible microphone.
“After you left, the handle on the wall began to move,” she began. “Lily put her hands on the handle and pushed down and the cable broke and—”
“Thank you, Dakota.” Coach Neuwirth strode to his desk. “Lily Michaels-Ryan, please accompany me to my desk.”
I followed him to the front of the class, keenly aware that every set of eyes in the room was fixed on me. Coach Neuwirth filled out a form for me to take to the office, not the usual pink half-page referral form, but an ominous shade of yellow with pages of carbons. As I stared at the razor stubble on top of his pale head, I realized I’d messed up pretty badly. So badly, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to see my father in the summer.
“It wasn’t just me,” I said. “There was someone on the other side pushing down. I didn’t mean to break the door, it’s just . . .”
Coach Neuwirth ignored me.
“You’ll note, Miss Michaels-Ryan, that I have filled out a Skrellnetch form for you. Your mother will have to sign the kerblig and return it to the main office before you can be burn to clabs . . .”
This would be a good time to mention that I’d stopped taking my ADHD meds about a month earlier because they made me puke randomly and caused my head to ring like an empty bell at night. Side effects.
“. . . Your parents will have to sign the kerblig before you can be burn to clabs. Do you understand me?”
He waited, holding the Skrellnetch form that I needed to take to the office. Clearly, he had no plans to hand me the all-important Skrellnetch form until I answered him. I contemplated my choices. If I said yes, he would hold me responsible for remembering every clause in his statement, and I would be made to suffer later because I had no idea what he had just said. My heart pounded with a weird mixture of fear and exhilaration.
However, if I said no, Coach Neuwirth would consider it a sign of insubordination and general smart-assery. It didn’t look good for me.
“So . . . what copy does my mom sign again?”
Peals of laughter erupted from behind me. Someone muttered, “Ass-hat,” and the laughter increased.
“Get the hell out of my classroom,” Coach Neuwirth said. He threw the Skrellnetch paper across his desk at me.
I began my trek to the office, hoping I wouldn’t run into anyone while I held the stupid Skrellnetch form. After the noise and glare of the classroom, the quiet calm of the hall, with every other row of fluorescent lights off to save on electricity, was a relief. Six steps of cool dark, six steps of bright white burn. Down the stairs. The first floor had a band of colored tiles at shoulder height: white, mustard yellow, white, blue. I held my right hand out and touched only the blue tiles as I passed through the hall, feeling my jittery state of anxiety mute into a dull, sad place in the center of my chest.
Down at the office, kindly Mrs. Treviño eyed my yellow Skrellnetch form with visible regret.
“Lily, what happened?” she said, as though I’d twisted an ankle in gym, or had some other not-my-fault kind of accident.
“I broke the sliding wall between Coach Neuwirth’s and Ms. Cardeña’s rooms.”
Mrs. Treviño sighed deeply.
I looked away as my lips started to quiver. A gray cloud of shame descended on me with remorseless speed. I’d like to be the good, thoughtful person Mrs. Treviño had mistaken me for. A person who doesn’t break stuff.
“Well, you’re not the only one,” she said. “Come on back.”
She escorted me to the inner chamber. There, by the vice principal’s office, were two ugly orange chairs. On one chair sat Abelard Mitchell. I took one look at him and knew he’d been on the other side of the wall pulling up on the handle while I pushed down.
Mrs. Treviño gestured to the empty chair and left us alone in the waiting area.
I’d known Abelard since kindergarten. Since my last name was Michaels-Ryan and his was Mitchell, we stood next to each other at every elementary school function. Abelard was tall and slim but broad-shouldered, with a mop of sable brown hair and dark blue eyes. He was gorgeous, but he had some sort of processing delay, mild autism or Asperger’s syndrome or something. He didn’t interact like everyone else.
But sure. Neither did I. When I was seven, I accidentally smacked Abelard with my metal lunchbox because I couldn’t stop swinging my arms. I cut his cheek, but he didn’t cry, and no one noticed until later, so now he had this little scar, which was weirdly sexy. Abelard never said anything. He had to have noticed that I was standing there in front of him swinging my Hello Kitty lunchbox with happy, maniacal abandon.
I liked to believe that he could have cashed me in to the teacher and he didn’t.
I dropped into the chair next to him, feeling suddenly nervous to be sitting on a chair that was actually bolted to his chair—as though even the furniture was there to be punished.
“Hey,” I said, a little too loudly. “So you were on the other side of the wall? Who knew it would break like that? You’d think a handle roughly the same age as the Titanic would be sturdier. Although I guess that’s a bad comparison.”
He said nothing. He was probably thinking about computer games, or quantum physics, or the novels of Hermann Hesse. From all available information, which I’ll admit was limited, Abelard was pretty brilliant.
“You were on the other side of the wall.” Abelard glanced at me and looked away.
“Yes.” I felt a strange thrill of complicity. “Usually, I’m here by myself. Why did you . . .”
I stopped before I asked him the stupidest of questions: Why did you break that? My least favorite question in the history of questions.
“The mechanism was squeaking. One of the gears is rusted. They need to oil it.”
I nodded. I didn’t know what to say, or if there was anything to say. I thought of Abelard, under the same anxious impulse to touch everything in the world of the here and now that we could feel with our hands. But unlike me, he was thinking about the hidden gears in the box, years of neglect and humidity, gears rusting away unused. He wanted to fix things, not destroy them. A more evolved monster, Abelard.
He leaned over and peered at me from under his shaggy fringe of hair. I caught a hint of his warm scent. Nice.
“Lily Michaels-Ryan,” he said. “You were in my English class last year. You hit me with a lunchbox in first grade.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” I said. “I hope it didn’t hurt too much. On the plus side, I really do like the scar. It makes you look like a pirate, a little disreputable, you know?”
Abelard brought his hand to his cheek and traced the edges of the scar as though checking to see if it was still there. Suddenly, I wanted to run my hand along his cheekbone to feel for that slightly raised skin, proof of my earlier bad act.
The sight of his hand on his cheek made me conscious of where my hand was on the arm of the chair, touching the sleeve of his shirt. A phone rang in the office around the corner. Mrs. Treviño’s voice came from the outer office, but it felt like she was on the other side of the world. We were alone.
“Abelard, why didn’t you tell anyone that I hit you with my lunchbox?” I said. “I never got in trouble for that.”
Abelard frowned in slow motion. He seemed slightly offended, like I’d accused his seven-year-old self of being a tattletale and a snitch. I’d been right. He had protected me, one freak to another. I felt a swell of something more than gratitude, more than surprise.
Abelard’s lips parted slightly, like he had something to say that he didn’t want anyone else to hear. I wanted to know what he was thinking. Suddenly, what Abelard had to say seemed like the most important thing in the world.
I turned my head and put my arm down on the chair to lean in so he could whisper in my ear. My arm slipped on the ancient vinyl, and I accidentally moved too close to Abelard, which is a thing that I do. I’m not good with personal space.
Abelard didn’t say anything. I felt his warm breath on the side of my face, a thousand little hairs on my cheek moving in the soft breeze, and I thought of his cheek and how I’d wanted to run my finger along the edge of his scar. And still it seemed like Abelard had something to say, but it wasn’t coming, and maybe he was too anxious to speak. I didn’t know what to say either. My brain was not forming thoughts in English.
I lifted my face and he looked away. But his lips were there, centimeters from mine.
I kissed him. The kiss was over before I really knew what I was doing, just a momentary soft press of my lips against his. A stray impulse that didn’t make sense, my wires crossed by the randomness of the day.
What was I thinking?
“Well, it was nice of you not to tell on me, even though you were only seven.” I went on talking as though I hadn’t just kissed him. I do this a lot. When you live at the mercy of your impulses like I do, you pretty much have to.
“Maybe you should have told someone? You probably needed stitches. Not that I don’t like the scar—it’s a great scar.”
Abelard brought his index finger to his lips and frowned. He had one of those serious, symmetrical faces that a slight frown only improves.
“Lily,” he said slowly, “I—”
I braced myself for a quick, awkward rejection, but before Abelard could finish his sentence, Vice Principal Krenwelge rounded the corner. I didn’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved.