Latina Harmen knew she was going to hate Missouri. “There’s nothing in Missouri!” she had told her father when he announced they were to spend the summer there. And now she knew she had been one hundred and ten percent right.
Latina had taken for granted that she would be spending another happy summer vacation with her friends at Periwinkle Cove on the East Coast. After all, her family had spent summers there as long as she could remember.
Now, in the summer before her senior year, she would be stuck in a hick town with no one around but her boring parents and bratty younger brother.
How could she have guessed the beauty that lay waiting for her in those brooding hills? How was she to know she would meet fascinating people, and that she would learn more about herself than she’d ever known?
How was she to know she would meet a special someone whose friendship and support would change her life forever?
This teen novel was authored and published in the 1990s and is now being re-released for a new generation of readers. Though some of the aspects of the story are dated I made the decision to leave as is. The story is timeless.
Targeted Age Group:: 13 – 16
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Teens are amazingly resilient. Even though, like all of us, they may resist change, it is often new places, new experiences, and new cultures that cause a teen to grow and bloom. That’s exactly what happens to Latina in this novel.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
For me, my characters develop after the plot begins to be formed. What type of character will best bring this story to life? Latina thinks she knows what she wants, but when she’s thrown into a totally different setting she opens her heart and mind to learn and grow. This is the type of character that the plot called for.
Tully is the anomaly in the story. I knew I needed a very special young man for this role. Latina has him stereotyped from the first, but then he surprises her, again and again.
Latina Harmen knew she was going to hate Missouri. “There’s nothing in Missouri!” she had told her father when he announced they were to spend the summer there. And now she knew she’d been one hundred and ten percent right.
The Harmen’s family car lurched and swayed around each sharp hairpin curve deep in the green-black Ozark Mountains. As the dense stands of trees flew by, Latina had been watching the curving roads and valleys directly beneath the road they were on. But now she was unable to look out the window at all.
The usually sweet fragrance of her father’s pipe was making her feel sick. She pressed her forehead against the cool window and squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn’t have motion sickness. Latina, the girl who fearlessly rode the wildest rides at the oceanfront park in Periwinkle Cove each and every summer? Impossible.
Her thirteen-year-old brother, Dirk, had finally stopped his nerve-shattering habit of snapping the little rubber bands on his braces and was now gazing out his window at the panoramic view, offering a few intelligent comments such as, “Wow!” and “Gee whiz, would you look at that.”
His very excitement over this desolate place was more than enough to nauseate Latina even without the constant, unending rocking of the car.
She clenched her teeth in a determined effort not to be sick in the car like a little kid. As she did, a soft uncontrollable moan escaped her lips.
Dirk turned to look at her. “Hey Mom! Latina’s making like Casper the Ghost.”
In a sort of haze, she heard her mother saying to her father, “Oh, Ross! She’s car sick. How much farther?”
“We turn off the main highway about five miles up ahead, but then it’s seven more miles to Zell’s Bush.”
Her mother looked around at her again, her face filled with concern. “Think you can hold on that long, Latina?”
Latina nodded without unclenching her teeth. The hamburger she’d had for lunch felt as it were hanging somewhere in the halfway spot of her esophagus.
Zell’s Bush. Even the name of the town to which they were headed was revolting. Every new lurch of the car took her farther and farther from the beach at Periwinkle Cove. And from Kent Starner.
As far as she could see out across the valleys, there were hills of deep green pine, which looked almost black – black and ominous. It seemed like an eternity before they turned a tight little curve on the dusty back road and saw a huddle of buildings sitting just past a sign announcing: Zell’s Bush. POP 381.
Her father parked the car, jumped out, and took long strides up the wooden step to the high porch of a store whose faded sign read Boles’ Grocery. Within minutes he called out to his wife to bring Latina inside.
When Latina thought back to it later, there wasn’t much she could remember about being led into the back living quarters of the dusty old store. Her stomach was kinked in little knots and her hair felt pasted to her head.
An old bathtub stood upon four quaint claw legs and the pipes came out of holes in the wooden floor to the faucets. She recalled sitting on the edge of that old tub while her mother held a cold cloth to her burning forehead. Voices coming from the store drifted back to them as Latina sat there attempting to regain her composure after having lost all her lunch.
She heard an older man saying, “I’m Orville Boles, and this here’s my wife, Maude. You folks heading for the Nettle ton place?”
“No,” she could hear her father explain in his patient professor voice. “We’re looking for the farm that Professor Kirkland owns. He’s a friend of mine. He’s in Europe for the summer, so we’re renting it.”
“Yep. That there’s the one. It’s the Nettleton place. The Nettletons owned it nigh on to fifty years.”
When Latina emerged from the back room with her mother, Mr. Boles was drawing her father a map on a brown paper bag that showed how to get to the farm. Thin, frail Maude Boles smiled at her sympathetically and made a tsking sound through her dentures. Latina looked away, wishing someone would offer her a place to sit down.
It wasn’t until that very moment that she noticed the young man sitting in a straight-backed chair tipped against the wall next to the pop cooler. His arms were folded across his broad chest and his long legs allowed his feet to remain flat on the floor. A shock of sandy curls lay across his forehead and his dancing blue eyes were laughing at her.
“Let’s go back to the car, Mom,” she whispered as her hand flew to her mussed and matted hair.
“We can wait till you’re feeling a little better,” her mother suggested. “No need to hurry now. We’re almost there.”
A few minutes earlier, Latina had never wanted to ride in a car ever again, but now she said. “Let’s go to the car now, Mother. Please!”
She couldn’t bear those laughing eyes on her another second.
The screen door was held by a snaky-looking long black spring that made the door bang shut as they went out.
Her father and Dirk followed shortly, chattering about their first glimpse of Zell’s Bush. “Paulie,” the professor said, “did you ever see the likes of that store? Just like a scene from Ma and Pa Kettle wasn’t it?”
“Somewhat, I suppose.” Her mother’s voice was non committal.
“That tall guy was really cool,” Dirk was saying in his usual breathless way. “Did you see the muscles on that dude? What’d they say his name was, Dad?”
“Clouse. Tully Clouse, I think. They drawl their words so that I can barely make out what they’re saying.”
Clouse! Latina seethed inwardly. Should have been Louse. That clod, who looked like he was wearing his little brother’s jeans, had laughed at her! As if coming to this miserable place and then getting sick weren’t degrading enough, that hillbilly had had the audacity to laugh at her.
Gray clouds gathered in the sky as they traveled the winding road from Boles’ Grocery to the farm. Twice, their car bumped over metal bridges that rattled beneath them in protest. Her mother remarked that the road must wind and turn more than the streams did.
Latina mutely agreed.
The fact that the two-story farmhouse was in better repair than Latina thought it might be did nothing to cheer her. It was nothing in comparison to their charming cottage at the cove on the East Coast where they had stayed every summer for as long as she could remember.
A few drops of rain had begun to fall as her father brought the last of their luggage into the cavernous house. After the long tedious hours traveling from their home in Eagleton, Ohio, Dirk now exploded into a missile, shooting from room to room. His insatiable curiosity about the big old house made it impossible for their father to get any help out of him.
Dirk reported that there were four humongous bedrooms upstairs and immediately staked his claim on the southeast room that overlooked the meandering driveway and the expanse of the valley. He wanted to see the sun come up, the announced to all who would listen as he leaned precariously over the balcony railing at the head of the stairs.
The musty smells of the old house – which had recently been opened up and aired out by one of the local women – didn’t do much for Latina’s queasy stomach.
“As soon as I locate the teakettle, Latina,” her mother said as they carried boxes into the kitchen, “I’ll heat you some soup and make a cup of tea.”
Latina set the box she was carrying on the kitchen table which was spread with a worn, flower-print oilcloth. She watched as her mother gazed about the room. “This place smells like my Grandma’s old farmhouse.”
The statement surprised Latina. She hadn’t heard her mother speak much about her family, all of whom had lived in Kansas and had long since passed away before Latina was born.
The air in the house was cool and clammy. As soon as Latina located the right suitcase, she pulled out her bulky blue cardigan and slipped its warmth over her bare arms. She then grabbed her transistor radio from the same suitcase and tuned in her favorite music to chase the formidable silence out of the house.
Norma Jean Lutz’s writing career began when she enrolled in a writing correspondence course. Since then, she has had over 250 short stories and articles published in both secular and Christian publications. The full-time writer is also the author of over 50 published books under her own name and many ghostwritten books. Her books have been favorably reviewed in Affair de Coeur, Coffee Time Romance, Romance Reader at Heart, and The Romance Studio magazines, and her short fiction has garnered a number of first prizes in local writing contests.
Norma Jean is the founder of the Professionalism In Writing School, which was held annually in Tulsa for fourteen years. This writers’ conference, which closed its doors in 1996, gave many writers their start in the publishing world.
A gifted teacher, Norma Jean has taught a variety of writing courses at local colleges and community schools, and is a frequent speaker at writers’ seminars around the country. For eight years, she taught on staff for the Institute of Children’s Literature. She has served as artist-in-residence at grade schools, and for two years taught a staff development workshop for language arts teachers in schools in Northeastern Oklahoma.
As co-host for the Tulsa KNYD Road Show, she shared the microphone with Kim Spence to present the Road Show Book Club, a feature presented by the station for more than a year. She has also appeared in numerous interviews on KDOR-TV.
Presently (in addition to her own writing endeavors) Norma Jean is actively reaching out to other writers via the Internet and social media.
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