I. My new novel, What I Leave Behind, out on May 15, stars 16-year-old Will. Will is one of those charming people that everyone loves – maybe because he’s naturally cool, but probably because he’s fundamentally kind. He knows how to make lonely people feel less lonely, for example his socially-awkward boss Tom at Dollar General. He knows how hard life can be –he lost his dad to suicide a few years ago and his childhood friend was recently assaulted—but instead of turning inward to his own pain and sorrow Will tries to make the lives of those around him better.
II. Will wonders: If he had stayed at the party where his friend was assaulted, could he have prevented it? Could he somehow have prevented his father’s suicide? Questions torment him. One of the ways Will tries to make sense of this un-sense-making world is by walking. He walks and walks and walks the streets of his downtown L.A. neighborhood, past Superman, the homeless man, past the house of a little boy he’s nicknamed Little Butterfly Dude because of his love of butterflies, past the bridge where his dad jumped, until he finds a rhythm that lets his thoughts roam free.
III. What I Leave Behind is a novel in almost-verse. I composed it in 100 chapters of 100 words exactly. It was a great artistic challenge to compress the emotion and depth of a novel into one-hundred-word passages, but I love great artistic challenges and I loved writing this book. The brevity of the passages and the need to infuse them with profound emotion worked a kind of magic on me. So did Will’s kindness. He is near and dear to my heart. Will conjured himself up like a gift to the world. I hope he feels that way to readers.
“Told from Will’s fragmented, raw perspective, this slim novella packs a profound punch. Haunting, introspective, and traced with pain.” Kirkus, starred review.
“In this spare, emotionally raw novella, the deeply thoughtful 16-year-old narrator, Will, vainly tries to recreate his father’s cornbread recipe, and he walks through L.A. neighborhoods while his mom works overnight at the hospital. Ultimately, the piercing narrative offers an affirmation of remaining connected to others through loss as Will embraces his relationships and begins to heal.” Publishers Weekly, starred review.
“Sixteen-year-old Will is a walker. Things have to be walked out through the soles of your feet, he believes. McGhee’s short, understated novel is an artful exercise in melancholy. . . conveying emotions that are pure and sincere. Will is a classic wounded teenager who is nevertheless his own person. Everybody loved his father—and every reader will love openhearted Will.” Booklist, starred review, Review of the Day.
May 16, St. Paul, MN. The Red Balloon Bookshop, 6:30 pm.
May 21, La Grange, IL. Anderson’s Bookstore, 7 pm.
May 22, Cincinnati, OH. Joseph Beth Booksellers. In conversation with Mindee Arnett and Emily Henry, 7 pm.
May 23, Washington, DC. Politics & Prose. In conversation with Mary Quattlebaum (Washington Parent editor and Washington Post freelancer), 7 pm.
May 24, Madison, CT. RJ Julia Books, 6:30 pm.
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