From Robin Antalek, author of The Summer We Fell Apart, comes an evocative and emotionally resonant coming-of-age novel involving three friends who explore what it means to be happy, what it means to grow up, and the difficulties in doing both together. Spanning over a decade, and told in alternating voices, The Grown Ups explores the indelible bonds between friends and family and the challenges that threaten to divide them. It is the addictive and moving story of these old friends who wind up confronting their past in order to find happiness in their adult lives that make this novel an anticipated winter release.
Sam Turner, the summer he turns 15, feels lucky enough to enjoy the unexpected attention of his friend Suzie Epstein, even though it’s only a few secret months. For reasons Sam doesn’t entirely understand—and will never question—the budding relationship is kept hidden from their close circle of friends. But before their summer tans can even start to fade, Sam’s world unexpectedly shatters twice: Suzie’s parents are moving away to save their marriage, and his own mother has suddenly left the house, leaving Sam’s father alone to raise two sons.
Watching as her parents’ marital troubles escalate, Suzie Epstein takes on the responsibility of raising her two younger brothers while simultaneously planning an early escape to college to seek independence. Though she occasionally thinks of Sam, it’s her oldest friend Bella Spade she finds herself missing. Embarrassed by the destructive wake of her parents as they left the only place Suzie could call home, Suzie makes no attempt to reconnect with the one person she needs. Its years later that a chance meeting with Sam’s older brother Michael will reunite her with both Sam and Bella—finally forcing her to confront her friends, her past and what she left behind.
After losing Suzie, Bella surprisingly finds her first real love in Sam. But his inability to commit to her or even his own future eventually drives them apart. Watching Suzie and Michael as they seem to have worked it all out, Bella’s only to wonder where she went wrong and how to make it right.
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Just for Fun: Playlists for The Grown Ups
When I write, if I’m really lucky, I’m really just transcribing this big movie in my head that unrolls and plays on a loop until I put it on paper. That’s the only way I can describe what happens when I’ve really fallen into the story with a group of characters all clamoring to be heard. The songs I picked for Suzie maps out her emotional territory—and add to her life as only a great soundtrack can enhance a movie and sweep you right back into the moment.
“Pictures of You,” The Cure
Suzie’s discovery of her father’s shoebox of pictures is the catalyst that sets the summer of 1997 in motion and plays a role in linking this group of friends forever.
“Losing My Religion,” R.E.M.
There are multiple layers of meaning here for Suzie. It’s confessional, it’s about pining for someone, and it’s about losing that last tip of civility. Leaving her friends, moving with her family to “start over” even though the new beginning was doomed, losing her virginity, losing her identity. This song is all tied up in what was happening to Suzie Epstein in the years immediately following the discovery of those photographs.
Suzie is as surprised as anyone when she falls in love with Sam’s brother, Michael. She has been on her own for so long, taking care of it all for everyone, that it takes a while for her to understand that Michael is really there for her. It’s not until she begins to trust him that she would ever allow herself the idea of being saved from herself.
“Just a Girl,” No Doubt
This Gwen Stefani punk girl anthem seemed to embody the meaning of the burden of femininity that Suzie had pushed against for years. Giving Suzie this song when everything is right—med school, fiancé, friends, a generally fulfilled life—seems like less a fight song and more of a “look how far I’ve come” song.
“Back to Black,” Amy Winehouse
Despite everything, Suzie struggles to have a relationship with her mother, Sarah. Ultimately, every interaction leads them in a circle.
“Cry Baby,” Janis Joplin
Suzie is struggling to cope with her first miscarriage, a demanding medical residency, and her relationships with her husband, Bella, and her mother. That raw scrape of Janis Joplin’s vocal chords as she wails Cry baby, cry baby, cry is the opposite of what Suzie allows herself, but what she desperately needs.
“The Drugs Don’t Work,” The Verve
After Suzie suffers several miscarriages in an eighteen-month period, her relationship with Michael nearly collapses.
“Happy Together,” The Turtles
This song is a sweet retro kind of love song that perfectly captures the bliss Suzie feels when she and Michael finally have their baby boy, Leo.
Years ago on a December night in their junior year of high school they had been in Peter Chang’s basement before the winter dance, when Sam had turned to Bella, his eyes as navy as his sweater, and said, “So?”
It began as simply as that, friends who had known each other since they were in diapers. Sam made her happy. Just the sight of him as his cheeks flushed a deep shade of red was all it took. She wanted to kiss him and she knew that he probably wanted to kiss her too. Later, when they had all stumbled from Peter’s basement, wandering through the streets of their neighborhood to the high school, Sam had bumped up against her shoulder and she had found his hand down by his side and grabbed hold of his fingers. He wound them through hers and hadn’t let go, and right then in that moment she had been so sure of everything she had ever wanted.
Since her mother’s funeral, Bella had been stuck on that memory, and she didn’t know why. Maybe it was only the ache of nostalgia. She wanted to lie in bed alone and go over every minute she had spent in Sam’s arms. But then she had noticed the way her mother was looking at her and instead she had crawled into bed with her and whispered about Sam. The mustard light in the room was diffused by the angle of the bathroom door, and she caught a glimpse of her mother’s face in the shadows. She was smiling but there was also something sad in her expression.
About the Author
Robin Antalek is the author of The Summer We Fell Apart. Her nonfiction writing has been published in literary journals and in several collections, including The Beautiful Anthology; Writing off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema; and The Weeklings: Revolution #1 Selected Essays 2012-1013. Her short fiction has appeared in 52 Stories, Five Chapters, Sun Dog, The Southeast Review, and Literary Mama among others. She lives in Saratoga Springs, New York.
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