by Ann Roberts
Juvenile delinquents are vanishing from Lakeview, Michigan.
Brilliant fifteen-year-old Story Black has heard that the smartest kids go from jail to a special school—and then on to college. The mastermind behind it all is Lakeview’s newest citizen, Charlotte Barnaby, a former high school principal and winner of the largest lottery jackpot in history. Char brings her powerful billions back to her dying hometown, determined to save it and the worthiest children—regardless of what it costs.
Story plans to be next. Getting arrested is easy but getting out of Lakeview may be impossible. Standing between her and her new life is her mother Patty, a meth user with a genius I.Q. and a mysterious past of her own. Char launches an elaborate scheme to convince Patty to let Story go, but Patty is an immovable force, unwilling to put Story’s happiness before her own.
If Story wants the future she sees, she must confront her mother and be willing to lose everything—even their relationship.
“An emerging fifteen-year-old lesbian caught between two formidable women in all-out war over her heart and soul and future—what a stunner of a story this is, and on so many levels. It’s the read of the year. Any year.” – Katherine V. Forrest
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Several years ago during my tenure as an educational consultant, I was sitting in a classroom watching an excellent teacher engage every student in his room. They volunteered answers, respectfully commented on each other’s opinions and seemed genuinely thrilled about learning. No one acted out and no one refused to do what the teacher asked. It was the dream lesson teachers strive to achieve every day they teach. It was the ideal classroom.
Then I remembered where I was sitting: juvenile detention."
For more on Ann's thoughts about The Convincing Hour read her post on Bella Media.
Della B. - This YA novel can be enjoyed by any age group with lessons to be learned all the way around. Story Black is a character you easily like and you root for her dreams to come true. Robert’s writing brings you quickly into the story. The first four sentences of the prologue did it for me. It is a perfect balance of description, attitude, action and leaving you wanting to know why. Robert’s master class in writing has just begun. The prologue is a mini masterpiece unto itself. The writing is purposeful and thoughtful to dramatic effect. The rest of the novel is pure Robert’s at her best. This is a novel to be read and talked about. It should be on everyone’s must read list for 2021.
Jane S. - It's a great story and I'm routing for a sequel. I would definitely recommend this book. Lessons are to be learned by everyone including the reader.
Meike V. - This book paints a picture of the bleak parts of society in a gripping coming of age story. It’s sad, frustrating and angsty, but even under the miserable circumstances there are also moments of happiness and hope. Extremely well written and I definitely recommend reading this book! And on that note, can we have a sequel?
Culver City, California
When I shoved Paige’s scrawny, bulimic body against the gym locker, it felt good. I won’t deny it. Just givin’ her a little taste of Newton’s First Law, the one about goin’ along until you meet a force. She’d been goin’ in her little straight line of bullying and harassing me, and my Xena-warrior body compelled her to change course—right into the locker.
Like I said, it felt good and I saw purple, my color of rage. In school they tell you RED is the color of rage—and anger. But I’ve never seen red. Just purple. Ms. Olsen, the school counselor, told me it didn’t matter what color I saw. Only thing that mattered is that I knew I was gettin’ mad.
“I ain’t no ho!” I shouted over the yells of the other P.E. students. “And don’t you be talkin’ about my mama!”
“Fuck you,” she spat.
I twisted her spindly arm behind her back and yanked her ponytail. “Take it back.”
“Let go!” she wailed.
“Punch her!” someone yelled.
Easy for them to say. I’d learned how much suspension each of those hits was worth. Easy for somebody else to tell you what to do when they wouldn’t ever do it themselves.
“What the hell is going on?” boomed Lardass, the P.E. teacher.
The only thing bigger than his voice was his body. Ex-football player and ex-Marine, who still wore a flattop. He wedged between Paige and me and wrapped his tree-like arm around my neck. He was givin’ me his own spin on Newton’s First Law.
“I can’t breathe,” I squeaked.
His sickeningly sweet cologne mixed with sweat made me gag. He had a sneer on his face. He was enjoying this. He’d hated me since the first day when I refused to do the climbing wall. I couldn’t think about it anymore. The only thing I could think about was air. He was growling at me and for a split second I wondered what color his rage was.
“Let go, John!”
Thank God for Ms. Barnaby, the principal. Hearing his boss’s voice, he let go. I crumpled onto the bench—gasping and grabbing my throat—and the rest of the class dispersed. Everybody knew the closer you are to the trouble, the more trouble you get. Except for Paige’s sycophants. They huddled around her like a force field. They kept throwing me shade, so I looked away.
I practiced my breathing and stared at the graffiti carved into the bench—an infinity symbol. I almost laughed. I agreed. P.E. never seemed to end.
Across the room Lardass leaned against the lockers, looking away while Ms. Barnaby laid into him. She waved her radio, the antenna like a pointer. She wasn’t trying to be quiet and he didn’t seem to care until she said, “…involuntary suspension without pay.”
I smiled. I knew I was in it deep but so was he. Hello, Lardass, meet Mr. Newton.
Finally, three other members of the Hoover High security team rushed in. I rolled my eyes. I knew they’d been off campus at the Quik Stop, either getting a lousy burrito for lunch or taking a smoke. As a regular Hoover troublemaker, I was on a first-name basis with each of them. Goomba, the youngest, scowled at me and immediately went to Paige and her Barbie doll friends. He’d graduated from Hoover two years before and he still acted like he was a student. He let the popular kids get away with anything. Kinda funny because Goomba was never popular. His real name was Herman Flinch. Seriously.
Troy, one of the only decent security guards, went straight to Ms. Barnaby looking for direction, while Extra Sauce Mike trudged in last, wheezing. I laughed, picturing his sixty-year-old body trying to hustle across the street so he didn’t miss the action. He bent over to catch his breath but he didn’t care what was going down. He was just making an appearance to keep his job.
Except for Troy and a guy named Promo, security didn’t do shit. That’s why Ms. Barnaby seemed to be everywhere. She had to if she didn’t want a riot at her school.
Of course, none of them talked to me. And that was fine. It didn’t matter. Nobody ever believed me anyway. I bit my lip. That wasn’t true. Ms. Barnaby and Ms. Coyne, her fine-looking assistant, always gave me the benefit of the doubt. And I’d never lied to them. Not once.
I closed my eyes and thought of the ocean, changing that purple to the deep blue of the sea. Only good thing about Culver City was I could get to the shore on the bus. My rage receded like a wave spent on the beach. I was in control again. I wasn’t angry anymore but I was ashamed. Ms. Barnaby, Ms. Coyne and Ms. Olsen would be disappointed.
“Breanna, I need you to come with me,” Ms. B said quietly.
I grabbed my backpack and followed her, the rest of the class staring at me. Now, the old Breanna would see the purple again and wipe those smirks off their faces, even in front of the security guards. Even if I got hurt. But the new Breanna just swallowed it and sauntered out of the gym with Ms. Barnaby.
Once it was just the two of us, my shoulders slumped when the shame returned. So much for the new Breanna. You’re like a Project Runway model who just fell off the runway!
“You want to tell me what set you off in there?” Ms. B asked gently.
“Paige is talking shit. Callin’ me a ho. And my mama. She might be a lot but she ain’t a ho.”
I knew it was ironic that I got in trouble defending a woman who hated me and wished I was dead.
“And that’s when you threw Paige against the locker?”
“Yeah. Am I goin’ home?” I snuck a glance at her but she ignored the question. She doesn’t need to answer, dummy. You know the play.
I looked around. I had Ms. B all to myself. Usually half a dozen people were running up to talk to her but now everybody was back in class. Ask her!
“Why are you still here?”
Ms. B blinked. I’d surprised her. She didn’t answer and I wasn’t sure she would. I snuck another look. Her blond hair was shiny and fell to her shoulders. It was pretty and didn’t come out of a bottle. She had the longest eyelashes I’d ever seen, and since I’d been in her office a lot, I’d had plenty of chances to look at them—and her pretty green eyes. Her lips were puffy and I’d imagined kissing her…
“I’m here because I want to be,” she finally said.
“Why? If it’d been me that won the lottery, I woulda bailed right away. Said, ‘sorry, chumps. You can take Herbert Hoover High and shove it up your ass!’” I coughed and added, “Sorry about swearing.”
She laughed. “I thought about doing that.”
“Of course I thought about leaving, but then I’d miss these stellar opportunities to converse with the student body.”
I looked at her sideways and saw she was smiling. Even though I was in deep trouble, I smiled back. “That’s jacked.”
Everybody knew that Charlotte Barnaby, principal of Hoover High School, had won the largest lottery ever. Like anywhere. One and a half billion dollars! She wouldn’t talk about it at all, except at the ceremony when they presented her with the big, fake check. That was the law. If she wanted the money, she had to do the dance. I knew all this because I’d been in the office for an in-school suspension when the lottery guy showed up to talk with her about the deets.
He didn’t understand her either. Why was she still working? Why didn’t she want to celebrate? He sounded jealous of her. But she was just…herself. Told him she wasn’t leaving the school hangin’ in the middle of the year and she’d use the money to help people in some way. That part didn’t surprise me at all. And a billion dollars could help a lot of people.
She convinced them to do the check presentation at Spring Break, thinking that maybe everybody would forget by the time they got back to school. Hard to forget when there’s a bunch of TV news crews out in the parking lot.
Mama certainly wasn’t gonna forget. When she saw it on TV, she threw her beer at the screen. “Are you fucking kidding me! Her? She’s the last person who should win anything! This is so jacked!”
I tried to calm her down. “Maybe she’ll leave now and Mr. Newman’ll be the principal?” Newman was the other assistant principal in charge of athletics. All he did was hang out in the weight room with the jocks.
Her eyes widened and she nodded. “Well, that would be something. He knows how to stay the hell out of our business.”
But she’d stayed.
“So, is your mother home these days?” Ms. B asked as she swung open the door to the admin building.
“Yeah, but she said not to bother her anymore.”
She snorted, “Not how it works.”
“You’re gonna be sorry,” I warned. “She hates you even more since you got rich. You really will be sorry.”
Ms. B sighed. “Yeah, I probably will.”
I knew it’d be a few hours before Mama bothered to show up at the school to take me home and it was guaranteed she’d make a scene. Not because she’d be defending me or talking about the bullying that happened. No, she’d be mad that she’d had to take three buses to the school, probably interrupting the remainder of her high from the score she’d made the morning before.
I’d convinced her to let me switch schools because my old school, Edison, was worthless. And she’d let me go but she wouldn’t move out of our ’hood. She said it was ’cause her friends were there, but I knew she wanted to stay close to her dealer.
“Take this one, please,” Ms. B said, pointing to a student desk in the hallway that sat next to the conference room.
I slid into the chair and buried my head. The worst part of being sent to the office was the boredom and the constant ringing of the phones. Nothing worthwhile ever happened and none of the staff gossiped about each other or the students. It had been more entertaining at Edison because the principal was a do-nothing slob who never left his office except to talk to the policemen who regularly arrested members of the student body—usually the Black kids. There was always something going down there and I didn’t feel safe. But Hoover was different.
Why! Why do I get so angry? I’m stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I stared at my balled fists and felt the anger rising, saw the purple. But this time I was mad at my mom, not Paige. I hated her even though I was in trouble for defending her. I could say anything about her but nobody else got to dis her.
See, I’m bipolar, but Mama won’t fill my meds regularly. If it’s between her meth or my prescriptions, guess what wins? She’s never understood I need them to stay even. To stay safe. To stay above the waves. But most of the time I felt like I was drowning…in the sea of purple.
I wouldn’t have whooped on Paige if I’d had my meds.
“What are you doing here?”
I looked up at Ms. Coyne, the assistant principal. She was a tall, incredibly beautiful Black woman. I knew her first name was Elle, like the fashion magazine. Maybe her mama had suspected she’d be as beautiful as a model. She always wore classy business suits, large earrings and a necklace with a diamond teardrop.
She was as cool as she looked and she was a fabulous athlete, played basketball at UCLA. Me and her talked sports, especially softball, my fave. Ms. Coyne thought I could get a scholarship and be a Bruin just like she had. I wanted to believe it could happen but every time I wound up sitting outside Ms. Barnaby’s office, I believed Ms. Coyne a little less.
“Was it Paige again?” Ms. Coyne asked in a low voice.
I nodded. “I just couldn’t…I couldn’t stop.”
Ms. Coyne only offered a hard stare. I hated disappointing her. I dropped my gaze. I didn’t deserve to look at someone as fine as Ms. Elle Coyne.
“Did your mother ever refill your meds?”
I closed my eyes. When I got a whiff of her expensive perfume I knew she was squatting beside me.
“Why didn’t you come and tell me?”
Why? It’s fucking embarrassing! I HATE being on them but I would for you! “I didn’t want to bother you.”
“Breanna, sit up and look at me, please.”
I did as she asked and gazed into her kind, brown eyes.
“You’re never a bother. I know you have your pride, and I know the meds make you feel loopy. But still, you need them now. At least for a while.” She took a breath and looked down the hall. “I don’t know what’s gonna go down on this thing with Paige. You’ll probably be suspended but…” I opened my mouth to protest but she pointed at me. “…it won’t be for long. I promise you that. Now, do you have any homework I can get from your teachers?”
I shook my head. “I did it all.”
Ms. Coyne chuckled. “Of course you did. It’s all too damn easy, isn’t it?”
I shrugged and felt my cheeks burn. That was the truth. School was easy. I was on the list to do “enrichment projects,” which were challenging and fun, but supposedly all the spaces in the special class were filled. I knew that was bullshit. Mrs. O’Dell, the oldest and whitest teacher, didn’t want me there. I couldn’t blame her. Who’d want a front row seat to one of my shit shows?
I cleared my throat. “Is Paige okay?”
“Yeah. She’s got a few bruises and a cut on her forehead. But her lovely personality remains exactly the same.”
I looked away and stifled a laugh.
“Okay,” Ms. Coyne continued, “I’m going to get you some paper and a pencil so you can draw or write some poetry.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Do you think Ms. B’s gonna stay as principal now that she’s rich?”
“Um, I don’t know.” Ms. Coyne smiled.
Liar. Ms. Coyne and Ms. Barnaby were close and I’d wondered if they were a couple. The look on Ms. Coyne’s face told me Ms. B was leaving. That sucked. If Ms. Barnaby left, then Ms. Coyne would probably leave too.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Ms. Coyne said.
She turned away and I called, “Thank you.”
Ms. Coyne looked over her shoulder and winked. I felt all fuzzy inside and grinned.
“Get my daughter, lady!”
I jumped at the sound of Mama’s voice.
“Now!” she barked at Ms. Rodriguez, the super-kind woman who always spoke sweetly to the kids even when they didn’t deserve it.
I couldn’t hear Ms. Rodriguez’s reply, but I heard Ms. Barnaby say, “Shaneesha, you need to come into the conference room. We have to talk before Breanna leaves with you.”
“Like hell you do!”
“We do. The police are involved.”
“For shit’s sake! This school is the worst one yet!”
I turned over the page with the poem I’d been working on so Mama wouldn’t snatch it away when they went into the conference room.
She came around the corner still in her ratty pajama bottoms and a worn T-shirt, her large breasts jiggling free underneath the sheer fabric. When she saw me, she came at me. “I oughta slap you senseless, girl!”
Promo, the only other good security guy, quickly grabbed Mama’s arm and pulled it behind her back.
“Assault! Assault! Get your hands off me, asshole! This guy’s assaulting me! Call the cops!” she cried as he forced her into the conference room and tried to close the door behind him.
I stuck out my foot and caught the corner of the door before it clicked shut. I wanted to hear this but I didn’t need to see it. I knew Mama’s moves, her expressions, all of it. She’d been mad at me my whole life. Our lives were like a bad TV show that kept repeating.
“I’m gonna sue all of ya, exspecially you, Principal. You goin’ down! I’ll take those millions from you.”
“Ms. Waits, you need to sit and discuss this matter calmly,” Ms. Barnaby said, “or I’ll end this meeting, go to my office and call your parole officer. He’d probably be very interested to learn that you’re using again.”
“You can’t do that!”
“I most certainly can. Look at yourself. You’re in no shape to parent Breanna.”
“Parent Breanna?” she snorted. “Nobody parents Breanna. That girl does whatever she wants.”
“Do you even know your daughter?”
“What the hell you talkin ’bout?”
“Do you know how intelligent she is? How successful she could be if—”
“Shut up, lady! I don’t give a fuck! Don’t you see that? You missin’ my message? How dumb are you?” When Ms. B didn’t say anything, she added, “You think you’re so damn smart, you take her.”
“I saw you on TV holdin’ up that huge check. I don’t want her anymore. I ain’t goin’ to jail for that little bitch. She’s a hot mess and I can’t control her. I’ve been telling you people that for the last two years! I got my own shit to solve. You’re a rich woman now. You take her.”
I leaned closer to the door. Nobody said anything. I guessed Ms. B was shocked. I wasn’t.
“I’ll make it easy for you,” Mama blurted.
There was a commotion. A crash. Mama screamed. Promo’s heavy footsteps grew closer and I slid the desk away from the door just as it flew open, propelled by Mama’s dirty orange kicks. Promo had her in a bear hug, carrying her down the empty hallway toward the security office. Troy appeared and as he attempted to grab one of her flailing feet, she popped him in the face. She laughed but it turned into a whimper—then a cry. I guessed Promo had tightened his grip.
They disappeared into the security office and the door slammed shut. I looked down. What happens to me now!
Ms. B came to the doorway, dabbing her cheek with a paper towel.
“You’re bleeding,” I said.
“Yeah, your mom got me with that ring she wears.”
“Her high school class ring. Only thing she owns from her old life. And yeah, it leaves a mark.”
“Did she finish high school?”
I nodded. Mama loved talking about high school, the only memories that made her smile. It wasn’t high school that made her smile. What made her smile was Grandma Esther. Then she died…
Ms. B said, “Breanna, is there anyone you can call, an adult that you trust?”
You’re the only adult I trust—most of the time. I shook my head.
“What’s on the paper? Is that the poem I saw you working on earlier?”
“Would you read it to me?”
I hesitated. What if she hates it?
“Go ahead. It’s okay.”
I glanced up. She looked like she really wanted to hear it. “It’s about you winnin’ the lottery.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, that seems to be all anyone talks about.” She thrust her chin toward the paper. “I’m ready. I can take it.”
I chuckled and cleared my throat. “I call it ‘Filthy Lucre.’”
Ms. B snorted. “Great.”
I took a deep breath.
“Greed, greed, that’s all I see,
You won it big,
Are you better than me?
You may not change
But everybody else will,
They’ll try to put their hand
In your till.
They got their own dreams,
Expect you to flip a switch,
If you ignore ’em,
Then you’re just a bitch.
Get outta here,
It’s the only way.
Otherwise they’ll make you pay.”
I couldn’t look up at Ms. B. She was probably mad.
“Thank you,” she said. “I appreciate this, Breanna. I really do. May I keep it?”
I held it out and she accepted it gently, like it was valuable.
“I have to make some phone calls, Breanna. I won’t lie to you. Your mother is going to jail and you won’t be going home with her.” She touched my shoulder. “Just wait here while I go talk with Ms. Coyne.”
Before she walked away, I had to know. “Ms. Barnaby, could you ever do it?”
“Take me. Keep me?”
“Oh, I didn’t know you heard your mother say that. I’m sure she didn’t mean it.”
“She meant it,” I said quickly. “And if you adopted me, I’d be glad. And I wouldn’t give you any trouble. Could you do it?”
She only gave me this sad look. I knew it was a no. What else could it be? That happy ending, fairy tale crap only happened on TV or in the movies.
Mama went to jail for thirty days, long enough to get sober, and I stayed with a friend as a Foster. Then I went back to Mama. Her next boyfriend, Johnny, who needed meds as much as I did, punched me hard enough to kill me. He’d been an amateur boxer so he knew how to hit. And as I lay dying on the floor, I wondered about the color of his rage. I ain’t got no idea what color he saw but right before I died, I finally figured out why I saw purple when I got so mad. It was the color of the bruises I got from the people who supposedly loved me.