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A young girl aims to revitalize her lake town’s annual festival to reunite her family and honor her mom’s memory in this tenderhearted middle grade novel for fans of The Summer of June and Violets Are Blue.

Brooke’s mom always used to tell her, “It’s just a game.” But now that mom’s gone, Brooke is finding it hard to keep softball as just a game, when so much of her mom’s memory is woven into her favorite sport. And it doesn’t help that her older sister, Calla, has started avoiding the field, and Dad doesn’t have as much time to toss the ball in their backyard or go to all her games.

Then Brooke and her best friend, Derek, come across an album full of photos from when their town celebrated its annual Lakefest, a summer picnic that brought the whole community together at Brooke’s parents’ lake houses. When she brings up the idea to revive the event, Dad and Calla shut her down, but Brooke is certain that Lakefest can bring joy back to everyone in her town.

And maybe if her team of Derek and an unexpected classmate can pull off the picnic, her family can learn to heal and grow and create new memories, and Brooke can discover that she’s capable of more than she ever imagined.


Chapter One: Things Seen by the Ferns CHAPTER ONE THINGS SEEN BY THE FERNS
I have a job to do, and the sky helps me find my way. I rip off my catcher’s mask and search the clouds for an electric-green foul ball. If it’s anywhere behind home plate, my space to protect, then I’ll drop to my knees in the dirt before I let it get away.

I lift my arm against the honeycomb-patterned fence, my glove finding the ball just in time. That leathery slap is my favorite sound in the world.

“That’s three outs,” the umpire announces.

My teammates give me high fives and pound on my chest protector when we swarm the dugout.

“Good one, Brooke.”

“Nice out, Brooke.”

I half smile at them and head to my corner, a place between the dugout and the fence where I store my equipment between innings. I sit on an upside-down orange bucket and sweep away the dark hair matted to my temples. Coach Tanaka calls this spot my Disaster Corner, but I know where everything is. Mostly. My bat is on the ground, and a torn bag of sunflower seeds spills out at my feet. My batting glove rests in the dirt like a seashell washed up on the beach.

I turn toward the fence and see my sister, Calla, cross-armed in front of a wall of ferns with her boyfriend, Robby. He stares at his red cleats while her mouth moves; I can’t hear what she’s saying, but it looks like I’m sorry. She leans her head toward the sky, and sunlight catches the wet spots on her cheeks. I look away, nerves racing around in my stomach like they do during championship games.

Mom used to say my focus made me a great softball player; nothing could get to me in the middle of the game. If she were here now, she wouldn’t say that. Whatever I just saw between Calla and Robby burns itself into my brain. It’s like I’m looking at the field through a filter of Calla’s tears and green ferns.

“Helloooo.” Lily Graham, our star pitcher, waves her hand in front of my face. She’s the kind of pretty that everyone notices: gold hair, smooth skin. It’s just a fact. She’s Lily and she’s the Pretty One.

“What’s up?” I answer.

“You’re up,” she says in the not-exactly-nice way she says everything.

“Thanks.” I grab a helmet and my sky-blue bat. I’m at the plate before I realize I forgot my batting glove. It’s Mom’s from when she played in college. There’s a hole in the thumb and the Velcro is frayed, but I wear it anyway. I get into position at home plate, trying to push away the feeling that something is missing.

The pitcher on the other team, a girl from my homeroom with curly red hair, does her windup and sends the ball toward the plate. I swing so hard, I stumble forward. But the ball flies past me.

“Strike!” the umpire calls, as if I need the reminder.

I bounce the bat against my cleats while the catcher throws the ball back. Coach Tanaka motions to me from the third-base line. I look to him for a signal: maybe he wants me to bunt; maybe he wants me to swing no matter what. He doesn’t give me the sign for either. Instead, he waves his hands and imitates a big breath. The sign for calm down. It’s not a sign he’s ever had to use for me. It only makes me more nervous.

The pitcher windmills her arm back again, and the ball comes at me. It’s a little high, but I swing anyway. My bat slices through the air at nothing again, a bright blue blur.

“Strike two!”

I step back from the batter’s box, hit my cleats with the bat a few more times. My heartbeat travels from my chest to my throat. It makes breathing hard.

“You got this, Brookie.” Calla’s voice comes from behind me. I turn my head. She’s still by the ferns, but without Robby, smiling at me. It’s not her real smile. It’s the one she wore at Mom’s funeral, when people came up to us one by one and said how sorry they were. A smile that looks glued on.

I get back into position. The pitcher wastes no time with her throw. It’s a slower pitch, a changeup right down the middle, and I swing hard. My bat connects and the ball shoots into the outfield, over the center fielder’s glove.

I run without thinking, head down, until I see the base under my feet. My hand throbs from batting without my glove. I look up from the dusty base and see Coach Tanaka, which doesn’t make sense, because he was giving signals at third base, not first. Behind him, my teammates gawk through the fence that blocks the dugout.

I’m at third base.

I ran to third base instead of first.

“Go to first, there’s time, back to first!” Coach Tanaka shouts, pointing across the diamond to the base where I should be standing. The center fielder has the ball now, and sprints across the outfield to make the throw to first. I run as fast as I can back down the baseline, touching home plate. Lily is slack-jawed in the on-deck circle. Calla has a hand over her mouth.

My feet pound the dirt and leave brown clouds behind. I’m almost to first when the center fielder’s throw arcs across the infield all the way to first base.

“Out!” the umpire announces.

I jog back to the dugout, because it’s important to hustle even if your heart is sinking. Lily continues to stare. I sit on my orange bucket and grab my shin guards from the ground where I tossed them. My teammates don’t say it’s okay, because it’s really not. We are the Poppyseed Garden Center Lions, defending champions of the junior softball league. Errors like mine can cost us our first-place finish.

It’s the second major error of my softball career. I may have a hard time keeping track of things, but I never forget my mistakes.

Luckily, we were already beating the J&B Funeral Home Bashers by three runs before my wrong-base debacle, so it doesn’t ruin the game. Mom used to tell me that there is only one direction in softball—forward. You have to move on to the next play, the next game, no matter what. It’s hard advice to follow. The thing about an error is it reminds me of all the other ones I’ve made, the ones off the field. And then I get stuck in the tornado of things I’ve done wrong.

For the first time in a long time, I’m glad the game is over.

About The Author

Photograph by Janelle Medeiros

Beth Turley is a graduate of the MFA in creative and professional writing program at Western Connecticut State University. She lives and writes in southeastern Connecticut, where the leaves changing color feels like magic and the water is never too far away. She is the author of If This Were a StoryThe Last Tree TownThe Flyers, and This Close to Home. Visit her on Twitter @Beth_Turley.

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"What makes this book stand out is its skillful highlighting of tween girls’ confusion around changing expectations and emotions. These are real experiences told honestly, with empathy and insight...a sensitively told story with thought-provoking social commentary."

– Kirkus

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