Sunday, December 31, 2017

Because--Love! The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle

The day Abelard and I broke the wall, we had a four-hour English test. After the test I told my feet to take me to geography. If I didn't, I'd find myself in the quiet calm of the art wing, where the fluorescent lights flickered an appealingly low cycle. Sometimes I think I'm not attention deficient but attention abundant. Too much everything.

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. Thirty seconds after Coach Neuwirth left the room, the murmur of voices turned into a conversational deluge.

My feet made a decision in favor of the door, but a squeaking metallic noise stopped me. I turned. Directly behind was an accordion-folded vinyl wall. The handle moved. Now the handle jiggled up and down. It made no sense. I leaned over and grabbed the handle. I put both hands on the bar and pulled.

There was a loud pop. The bar went slack. The opposite end of the vinyl wall slid back three feet.

Love was born the day Abeland and Lily were sent to the office for breaking the folding wall. As they waited together, Lily couldn't stop looking at Abelard. There was a scar on his cheek, and she remembered a day in first grade when she was spinning wildly with her lunchbox in her extended hands and it hit him. He didn't cry, she remembered, or tell on her. And this time he takes the blame for breaking the wall while trying to fix it. Abelard is beautiful and kind, and Lily has a sudden impulse.

I kissed him, 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.

With a full-blown case of ADHD and a touch of dyslexia, Lily's wires are often crossed. Despite her intelligence and talent, the details of time, directions, and sometimes the words she hears and reads fall apart inside her brain. She's failing geography and English because she loses assignments and forgets deadlines. Abelard is like her mirror image, opposite in almost every way. Brilliant in math and engineering, obsessive about time and details, but cut off from relationship with others by his autism, he seems as strangely drawn to Lily as she is to him.

Gradually the two begin to text each other. Lily's father, a doctoral student who had abandoned his brilliant dissertation and family to join a farm commune, had once read the Letters of Heloise and Abelard to her, and when she discovers that Abelard also loves them, they carefully choose texts from the Letters that fit their feelings. Gradually they begin to spend time together, and they realize that their feelings are growing deeper. And when Abelard begins an early college entry, the two star-crossed lovers forge an improbably escape together there. Somehow together, Lily feels, she and Abelard together will not be broken, but whole.

In Laura Creedle's The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), the premise of being broken and yet whole is central. Lily's mother hopes that first medications and then a surgical implant will fix her, but Lily fears that the treatments will leave her without the best part of herself. But as she meets her father again and comes to know his history of things not finished and people abandoned, she realizes that she doesn't want to leave a trail of broken hopes and plans and relationships behind her as he has. And perhaps Abelard's differences somehow dovetail with hers. She sends him a long text.

Abelard, in an alternate universe somewhere, there is a less destructive version of me that doesn't break things. But in a less chaotic universe, we never would've happened.

But in this chaotic universe, I broke a wall, and I got--you. Oh, lucky destruction. You made me realize that breaking is just inept fixing, inspired by the same curiosity about how things work in the world.

Creedle's is a different teen-love story with a richness of texture and personalities, with no bad guys, not even Coach Neuwirth, just people trying their best to make things work in their own worlds, an imperfect world, but with a love story with a different slant on young love and on fixing ourselves for the ages.

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